Students from Eagle Mountain Middle School lean on charity fundraisers to unify community.

By Sarah Fox

 

Following the buzz of WE Day Vancouver, I hop in the car and drive eastward on the TransCanada highway, in search of committed and compassionate change-makers to keep the previous day’s energy alive. I’m enroute to Port Moody—known to locals as the “City of the Arts”—to visit Eagle Mountain Middle School. Today, the school will be rewarded for the actions of over 100 students, who participate in Eagle Mountain’s WE club.

I meet with educator Wendy Chen, who has been running the WE Schools program at the school for the past four years. A WE School veteran, she arrived at Eagle Mountain with previous experience with the program, dating back to 2010.

Today, she oversees a club of 100 regular contributors—and up to hundred more students who lend a hand with select initiatives throughout the year. Pointing to the club’s popularity, the educator is quick to recognize the innate generosity of the students behind it.

“So this is my Jenny,” she declares, as she presents one of her students. Jenny Oh is part of a group of 65 students who applied to attend WE Day in Vancouver this year. “Miss Jenny should’ve actually been chosen to go, but she writes on the very bottom [of the application]: ‘I had the privilege of going last year, and I don’t feel it’s fair for me to take a spot.’ For that reason alone she should just have a front row seat with a cushion,” laughs the teacher. “This is generally 80 to 90 per cent of the kids here. They’re all super compassionate.”

With this in mind, the educator’s grin widens as she goes over the day’s schedule—a well-deserved treat for the school’s WE community. The Kenyan Boys Choir will be giving a special performance for 570 students and 40 teachers, some past WE club members and a group of enthusiastic parents.

Today, a little piece of WE Day will find its way to Port Moody. As for the main event just passed, a seat at WE Day Vancouver—like all WE Days—is earned through volunteering, something Eagle Mountain students do on an annual basis through participation in WE Schools’ multitude of campaigns in support of local and global causes.

For students at the middle school, their enthusiasm extends beyond WE Day. When asked how they made it to WE Day Vancouver, they’re eager to relay stories of their biggest hits and challenges with me. In fact, students are equally, if not more so excited to talk about the volunteering initiatives that earned them their ticket, than the show itself.

As I learn, the WE club has put on magic shows, talent shows, formal days and fasted for 24 hours in the name of charity. They’ve introduced school dances, Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs), created food hampers, and had freezie sales, on top of running annual WE Schools campaigns, including WE Scare Hunger.

Determined to make the biggest possible difference in their community, for WE Scare Hunger students traded homemade cupcakes for cans, gave presentations on the issue of homelessness and food insecurity, encouraged community engagement by offering a pickup service to collect can food direct from homes, and even exchanged their trick-or-treats for a food offering.

Listening to the students passionately list all they’ve accomplished through the WE Schools program, it hits me. The incentive for student participation in the WE club goes beyond chasing a golden ticket to the event; students and teachers at Eagle Mountain truly understand the difference service work makes in their community. As Wendy explains, “When you’re fundraising for [a] particular cause, it informs them about the cause.” Motivating this group of young change-makers to pass on this knowledge, as well as their enthusiasm for volunteerism, is at the core of the club.

Her students agree. For Lea Bruhn—a WE club leader in the 8th grade—her favourite fundraisers are those that “involve everybody,” the type that see students “work together to all achieve one big goal.” She cites this year’s Terry Fox Run as an example, which the club raised $14,000 in donations for—exceeding their initial target.

To meet and surpass expectations like this, WE club members emphasize the need for the entire school’s participation, and in turn, more students are drawn to the solidarity formed. According to Jenny, this comes with an added bonus: unlikely friendship. “I didn’t even really meet these people [before], then one day, we were close friends.”

As the students, teachers, past WE club members and parents dance along with the Kenyan Boys Choir, I realize the WE Schools program is the adhesive keeping together this Port Moody community. Caring deeply outside themselves is what binds community members—attending empowerment events like WE Day is just a perk.

I see the pride gleaming from Wendy Chen and her students when the audience stands and claps along to the voices in the choir. It’s clear, this is just the beginning for these young leaders; they mean to make a mark in this world, and they mean to do it together.

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