Vital Youth celebration 2015

On May 13, Pacific Opera Victoria’s new Baumann Centre was buzzing with energy and excitement as we gathered for the year-end celebration of the Victoria Foundation’s Vital Youth program.

Now in its 11th year, the Vital Youth program provides students with hands-on experience in philanthropy and community development. Student groups from seven local high schools – Belmont Secondary, Frances Kelsey Secondary, Oak Bay High School, Parkland Secondary, Reynolds Secondary, St. Michaels University School, and Victoria High School – participate in the program. The Victoria Foundation gives each of the seven participating schools $2,500 to grant to local charitable organizations of their choice. An additional $500 is put into an endowment for each school to build enough funds that the program can run far into the future. At the year-end celebration, students, teachers, donors, grantee organizations and Victoria Foundation board and staff gathered at the Baumann Centre to celebrate students and acknowledge the recipient charities doing great work in our community.

When you walk into the Wingate Studio at the Baumann Centre, your eye is immediately swept up to the ceiling to gaze at the carved acoustic ceiling canopy. Kwagiulth artist and former opera singer Carey Newman has gifted the Opera Centre this carved ceiling feature that features three frogs. In Kwagiulth culture, the frog is a great communicator and a connector of worlds. The frogs in the beautiful carved ceiling reminded us that “communicate” and “community” are only a few letters apart — both are about bringing people together.

Wingate Studio, Pacific Opera Victoria

Students from each school spoke to the audience about their experiences with Vital Youth, sharing how the process worked with their group, how they decided which charities to grant to, and what they learned from the program.

At the beginning of the year, students start by researching where the need is in their community. “After reading this year’s annual Vital Signs report, my fellow committee members and I all agreed that we wanted to address what seemed to be ‘the biggest issue’: youth housing and homelessness,” said Lilly Powell from Victoria High School. “It was the only category to receive a C+ for this year.”

Victoria High School Vital Youth with Susan Howard, Victoria Women's Transition House
Victoria High School with Susan Howard, Victoria Women’s Transition House

From there, student groups thought about the kinds of charities they’d like to fund. Ravina Parmar from Belmont Secondary talked about the criteria her group established. “We decided that the charity should be local and grassroots. We also thought the charity should be working on the ‘front lines’ and in the area of greatest need. It should be assisting people of school age – people closest in age to ourselves.”

The students were then faced with some tough decisions about which worthy charities would receive funding. Some groups wanted to get even more involved, and volunteered or fundraised for several charities they were considered. “We decided as a group that we would do more than simply a monetary donation,” said Kelly Dinh from Parkland Secondary. The Parkland group eventually chose the Out of the Rain youth shelter for their donation. “On a monthly basis, we cooked a hot meal and delivered it to the shelter.”

Erinne Paisley from Reynolds Secondary spoke about the value of participating in the program. “This year we have been able to connect with amazing people throughout Victoria who are creating a more positive community and future. Connecting with these people have inspired us to strive to contribute positively to all communities that surround us,” she said. “This is a goal and a set of values that we will all continue to carry close to us throughout our whole lives, and we have the Vital Youth Program to thank for that.”

Reynolds Secondary, Erinne Paisley, Aidan Way
Erinne Paisley and Aidan Way from Reynolds Secondary School.

As we listened to these bright and engaged young people, we couldn’t help but feel inspired. Patrick Corrigan, executive director of Pacific Opera Victoria, said it best when he spoke at the beginning of the evening about creativity, philanthropy, and community.

“Artists are philanthropists. And in this building, artists and philanthropists work together every day to make life in this community a richer experience through art.

“This is why I’m particularly delighted to have the Vital Youth program at the Baumann Centre. As someone who sees artists of all ages develop and grow in their work, I feel I can tell you all that you have gifts you don’t even know about yet. And it’s okay if you don’t know what all your gifts are, but it’s important that you believe in them. If you believe in your gifts, and you are grateful for them …

“If you carry in your heart a belief in your creativity, and your power to change things…

“And if you seek every day opportunities to make the world better… you transform. Your gifts blossom and you walk the world with a great sense of your power to make a difference.

“Philanthropy is a deeply creative means to make the world better. I salute you for undertaking this particular learning and experience. I thank you for being here and wish for each of you the most fulfilling creative life you can imagine.”

We are so grateful for the contributions of our Vital youth participants, the teachers who support them, the community organizations who received grants, our amazing donors who make this program possible, and Pacific Opera Victoria for being such gracious hosts. Thank you!

2015 Vital Youth Grants
School Organization Amount
Belmont Secondary Artemis Place Society $300.00
Belmont Secondary Help Fill a Dream $600.00
Belmont Secondary Out of the Rain Youth Shelter (Beacon Community Services) $1,000.00
Belmont Secondary Sierra Club of BC $600.00
Frances Kelsey Secondary Cowichan Search and Rescue $1,700.00
Frances Kelsey Secondary Cowichan Women Against Violence Society $800.00
Oak Bay High School Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island $1,000.00
Oak Bay High School Recreation Integration Victoria (Victoria Integration Society) $1,500.00
Parkland Secondary Out of the Rain Youth Shelter (Beacon Community Services) $2,500.00
Reynolds Secondary Umbrella Society $2,500.00
St Michaels University School Extreme Outreach Society $1,250.00
St Michaels University School Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association $1,250.00
Victoria High School Victoria Women’s Transition House $2,500.00