By Skana Gee
Sandy Thurber still remembers the day the Grand Manan Community School student council members came to Fundy Community Foundation looking for a grant to start a car club.
It was more than 15 years ago, and the foundation was just getting up and running in Charlotte County, New Brunswick. Thurber, now the organization’s Executive Director, remembers that the students were worried about education cuts that would see their school lose its shop classes.
The small island school had experienced high drop-out rates, and these savvy students wanted to make school relevant to kids at risk. The car club, they believed, would help.
The students were doing their part with fund-raisers – even chopping and stacking wood – but they needed a $1,000 grant to get started. It was one of the first grants awarded by Fundy Community Foundation, which now has almost $3.5 million in endowments and has granted more than $500,000 to worthwhile projects and initiatives.
And it is still one of the most meaningful. It allowed the students of Grand Manan, one of three small islands served by the foundation, to purchase a 1980 automobile, strip it to the frame and completely rebuild it into a functioning race car. Each year since, a new group of students gets its chance to do the same.
The club is now starting work building a car carrier (a flatbed truck) to use to carry the car to special events. The car, dubbed Thumper, has been driven in races at an actual race track and once even made the ferry trip to the mainland to attend the community foundation’s annual general meeting. And, more importantly, it is keeping students engaged in their education.
The kids tell Ms. Thurber that there are always students with their noses pressed up against the window of the auto shop. Everyone wants to be involved. And they can be, but they must attend classes and keep their marks up – the school has even started a tutoring service to make sure that happens.
With continuing grants and support from the foundation, the school has been able to purchase a second vehicle and help more young people stay on the right path. And it has brought the community together, as people of all ages catch the students’ infectious enthusiasm.
A prime example of the way in which a small amount of money can make a big impact.
Skana Gee is Communications Coordinator with Community Foundations of Canada