This article is from the May 2016 Issue of Forever Young

 FYng May 2016 Group shot

“For the first time in my life, I’m excited to be at school.”

By Tyler Finley

As his parent’s looked on tearfully, this was the sentiment shared by seventeen-year old Brandon Miller to the community members and volunteers who had gathered to hear his graduation presentation.

Miller is one of 14 students from Central Programs and Services (Central School) in Kelowna who completed the Gateway to Trades program in January of this year. Now in its fifth year, the program is put on in partnership by Okanagan College and School District 23 to provide struggling high school students with exactly what the name suggests – a gateway to a brighter future.

Jim Ingram has been instructing the program since it began. An RV Service Technician instructor at the College, Ingram has witnessed the program’s remarkable capacity to help struggling students get their lives back on track.

“Gateway is about far more than giving students a chance to learn hand skills or the tools of a trade,” he explains. “It’s really about helping them develop life skills and a sense of self-discipline—from getting up in the morning and being in class every day, to supporting their fellow students.”

Central teacher Rob Law re-iterated the value of the peer support element of the program in his address to students, parents, and community members gathered at this year’s graduation ceremony.

“Over the years we have expanded the component of the program which we call Pre-Gateway,” explains Law. “It involves a great deal of team building and is all about giving students the opportunity early on in the program to bond as a group and see the value of supporting one another as they go through this process together.”

From building a sense of community among the students, to growing a network of community members who are championing the program at large, community is a word that seems to go hand-in-hand with Gateway.

The Rotary Club of Kelowna has donated more than $40,000 to date, in the form of bursaries for students. The province has also provided support, most recently in the form of a $40,000 grant to Okanagan College which helped ensured the success of this year’s programming. Funds serve to enhance the program providing for tuition support (OC Foundation courses), field trips, meal program, course materials (books and supplies) for OC Foundation courses and transportation.

This year, five students took home Rotary bursaries valued at $500. Two more received the Dee Capozzi Gateway Award, which is also intended to support students continuing their trades training at the College.

Donor Dee Capozzi created the bursary for Gateway students to help inspire young learners to see the value in themselves and in continuing their education.

“What I like best about the Gateway Program is that it offers students an opportunity to get a hands-on experience at the college’s trades facility,” says Capozzi. “They get to sample various trades, enabling them to find a real interest and see the value of continuing their education.”

“As a donor, I feel this is an opportunity to offer a hand up rather than a handout. I believe that through education each student can acquire the tools for success in their life & I’m delighted to be part of it.”

Donors like Capozzi are making a big impact in the lives of students, including many who opt to continue their training at Okanagan College or another institution.

“This program is greatly enhanced by the generosity of donors in the community who want to see students transform their lives through education,” explains Program Administrator Randy Horne. “And that in turn is very inspiring for the students, and for those of us who believe so strongly in this program and what it helps our students accomplish.”

Gateway has been so transformative for so many students over the years, that instructor Jim Ingram even came out of retirement last fall to shepherd another group of students through the course. At the graduation ceremony, Horne joined students in presenting Ingram with a plaque recognizing the instructor’s immense contribution to the program. One of those students was Brandon Miller.

“This program was amazing,” says Miller. It showed me what I could accomplish if I worked hard for it. I’ve applied to the College’s Heavy Duty Foundation program starting in September and I know I’ll be successful in it. Even if I have to try multiple times, I know I have put my mind to making it happen.”

Helping students learn how to face adversity in the classroom and in life, is one of the most important elements of Gateway.

“Instructing this program has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” says Ingram.

“We’ve had students from very difficult backgrounds, students who have struggled with drugs and all manner of issues.”

“These are students with the same aspirations as everyone else but they don’t necessarily have the skills to get where they want to go. Gateway gives them the skills to pick themselves back up and keep going, even when they stumble. To have seen students do just that has been a wonderful experience, and I hope people continue to support the program and help it carry on for many years to come.”

What’s your passion? If you would like to learn more about the Gateway program and opportunities to support students, please contact Kathy Butler, Executive Director of the Okanagan College Foundation, 250-762-5445 Ext. 4775.

Tyler Finley is a local writer. He works in the Public Affairs Department of Okanagan College.