A new program plans to turn Hampstead School students into heroes.
The Little Heroes program at the East Kildonan school hopes to foster a sense of hope and opportunity among the students at the school.
School principal Elizabeth Linton explained she’s seen the effects of poverty in the community, and would like to do whatever possible to minimize barriers to the school’s students. The school has an established breakfast program where students receive nutritious meals that include fresh fruit and organic eggs, as some do not receive quality breakfasts at home.
Volunteers from the greater community come to help out at the breakfast program, including local developer Peter Anadranistakis, who heard about the program through Pastor Greg Armstrong of Eastview Community Church. Armstrong is also involved in Little Heroes.
After his experience, Anadranistakis told Linton he wanted to do more to help the children and to give them opportunities they may not otherwise have had.
"He started asking me questions about what some of the needs were for the school — things beyond the scope of the school to meet," said Linton, who is in her third year as Hampstead’s principal. "I try to build a lot of strong relationships with the community. I’ve been in a lot of homes, so I’ve had a true visit or sense of some of the homes in which some of our children are living, and they are impoverished homes."
Linton said Anadranistakis asked her what some of her dreams would be — "that was a mistake, because I can dream big," she said, adding she presented him a list of hopes, and he vowed to help make those dreams reality.
"It was unbelievable to me, because I was asking for some pretty big things that I felt would build hope and optimism in my community," she said, adding few students in the school take music lessons or participate in community club sports.
"They really care about their kids, they really care about what’s going on – but they just don’t have the funds to sign them up for soccer, football, dance classes," Anadranistakis said. "My passion is to keep them so busy that when they get home at night, all they can think about is sleep. Then they wake up in the morning and do it all over again."
After the program received a $10,000 donation from the Manitoba Heroes in November, the Little Heroes program was able to make its first mark on Hampstead by giving each of the school’s approximately 160 students a book to take home at Christmas. As well, Linton hopes to build on the school’s attendance incentives program, providing more substantial prizes for perfect attendance.
Linton said the next stage is to create school T-shirts for staff and students to wear in order to build a sense of belonging. She added shirts, designed by Kildonan-East student Zac Plustwa, will be replaced as the children outgrow them.
"It’s so important for self-esteem, and for a child in a school, building a sense of safety, especially for children who have been in many schools," she said.
Recalling an interaction with a young person from a rougher neighbourhood, Anadranistakis hopes to make a difference in the lives of these children.
"He said ‘Where I live, it’s not quiet and it’s not safe,’" he said. "I said ‘If you keep working hard, keep going to school, keep getting involved in different activities, it will lead to good things.’"
Those interested in donating to the program can contact Little Heroes chairman Doug Warkentin at 204-414-2479 or Anadranistakis at 204-951-4751. Little Heroes is in the process of becoming incorporated as a non-profit.