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Foundation feeds educational needs in North Okanagan

Okanagan Learning Foundation open house Nov. 3
Stocking up for the Food for Thought program at Okanagan Learning Foundation, which supports youth with food insecurities. (OKLF photo)

While working as a teacher at W.L. Seaton Secondary, Stephanie Hewson noticed that while there are wonderful food programs operating in schools during weekdays, what happened to these students over the weekends?

This thought developed into the Okanagan Learning Foundation’s (OKLF) Food for Thought program which supplies secondary students in need with nutritious groceries they can pick up on campus every Friday.

“Our mission is to support Okanagan students and teachers by creating the conditions they need for success,” said Hewson, now the executive director of OKLF.

Operating within the North Okanagan for the past six years, the Vernon-based registered charity began with a targeted effort to address food insecurities that some students experience over weekends. OKLF is excited to announce that by the end of October 2022, they will officially be running Food for Thought out of every secondary school in the district.

Teachers, educational staff and other community organizations supporting youth have been invited to OKLF’s open house Thursday, Nov. 3 to see the new space to help spark ideas for how to put it to use servicing continual learning in the community.

OKLF’s mandate focuses on supporting the learning needs of secondary students (ages 13-19) which includes offering support to their teachers and other community organizations. The three pillars of the foundation are food security, mental wellness and educational tools.

Hewson describes the goal of the foundation as “trying to create the optimal conditions for learning. You are not going to be able to learn if you don’t have food in your tummy, your mind is not at ease, or if you don’t have the funding, or access to courses or the materials to learn. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a high school student or a teacher, continual learning is what it’s all about.”

Some of the projects they’ve recently supported include a $14,000 donation to Healthy Essentials Clinic in Lake Country, received by founder and director Christina Camilleri to support group counselling programs targeting disordered eating among youth. At Clarence Fulton, OKLF joined several other donors to support the purchase of a fleet of bicycles for the school to support physical activity which aids in both mental wellness and classes’ abilities to take their learning beyond the school walls. For the Vernon Alternative Learning Program, OKLF funded the purchase of a MUSE device, an EEG-Powered device that translates neuro-activity into guiding sensory stimulus to help users stay calm and focused. The OKLF also supports other adjacent community organizations like the Vernon Family Resource Center (VFRC).

“Okanagan Learning Foundation funding allowed us to develop and launch our Queer Field Trip program for high school students. They were wonderful to work with,” said VFRC executive director Jim Swingle.

OKLF is a privately funded, volunteer-run charity operating in Vernon and the Okanagan Valley. This means there is no government or ministry funding. Their funding comes from the community and goes directly back to the community in the form of nutrition programs, mental wellness supports, and grants for teachers, staff, and community members dedicated to supporting the continual learning of youth.

“Vernon as a community is just so incredibly generous and caring, and that has come through in so many different ways in the last six years,” said Hewson. “It warms my heart to see how much Vernon gives, and how generous the people in this community are.”

As a former teacher herself, Hewson points out how lucky she is that her volunteer work with the OKLF still keeps her involved with educators and students and all the things that she loved most about teaching.

“You put one foot in front of the other and you don’t realize how much you’ve accomplished,” said Hewson. “And we continue to grow and expand, down the valley, and in every school in our district. Now that we have this space, we want to encourage people to use it.”

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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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