New schools foundation president believes in power of community support

NANAIMO – Patrick Ross knows the value of a hand up.

Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross knows the value of a hand up.

The 65-year-old, who took over the reins as president of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation in February, grew up in Vancouver in a single-parent household and money wasn’t abundant – Ross, his two brothers and mother were on social assistance.

“We were the family who got the Christmas hampers,” he said.

When Ross was young, he was making some poor decisions and getting into trouble.

But then a local service club sent him to an outdoor wilderness camp in Howe Sound, where he met some role models and discovered, as he returned to work at the camp in following years, a passion for helping others that led to his teaching career. Ross believes the community support changed the direction of his life and said the support provided by the foundation could do the same for others.

“If you can give kids that support at that critical time, it has the potential to make a huge difference,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be predetermined that if you have a rough start, you have a rough life.”

Despite his rough start, Ross went on to get his teaching degree from the University of B.C. and taught in Kelowna before becoming one of Nanaimo school district’s first elementary school counsellors in the late 1970s and then a special education teacher.

He finished up his career in the district in the early 1990s as assistant superintendent of student support services and also worked for Vancouver Island University (then Malaspina University-College) first as dean of student services and then as vice-president.

He retired in 2008 and two years ago, joined the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation board because he thought he could be of use given his educational background and his personal experience.

Last year, the foundation distributed almost $500,000 to students in the district.

The foundation gives money to every school in the district to dole out as situations arise such as helping low-income families purchase new running shoes or glasses, said Ross. The fund also covers seven breakfast programs and a number of snack programs across the district.

“There’s always going to be a certain segment of our society who, through very legitimate circumstances, need the extra support,” said Ross, adding that the foundation helps save society money in the long run.

If a student continues to do poorly, they can end up costing the system money through legal problems, health problems and other issues and so the prevention work the foundation does is simply “smart work,” he said.

New initiatives to help raise more money include a 50/50 payroll contribution draw for district employees and a new grant program that would give money to schools for projects focusing on social responsibility, community development and student leadership.

He sees the foundation as one important pillar in an integrated support network involving the district, social services, the police and other partners and while it would be ideal if the foundation were no longer needed one day, he doesn’t believe that day is going to come any time soon – at least not in the next two years when he is at the helm.

“There’s always going to be folks needing help and there’s always going to be folks willing to give it,” said Ross.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said since the foundation formed in 2008 with an expanded mandate – the previous organization focused solely on scholarships and bursaries – it has sent thousands of dollars into schools to support vulnerable children.