Student-led group makes impact in Powell River

Self-directed youth aim for positive change in school and beyond

Many student organizations are doing positive work at Brooks Secondary School, however, what sets Students for Change apart, according to co-president Haley Spenst, is the autonomy of the youth who run it.

“We really wanted a school group that was student led,” said Spenst. “We have so many in this school but they’re all teacher led and we wanted something students could take charge of and work together in a big cohesive group.”

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The group was founded last year by Brooks graduate Catriona Hopper. Its aim is to make a positive impact in the school and  greater community. Currently Spenst, along with co-president Lauren English and some 35 students, meet each Monday during lunchtime and have taken on everything from school repairs and jacket drives to raising funds for Brooks teacher Jerry Reghelin and his family after he suffered a brain injury.

“Our most recent event was a bottle drive,” said English.

“We partnered with United Way to raise money for elementary school lunch programs. We try to do small impacts but then we focus on bigger things.”

Recently, Brooks school counsellor Ross Vaartnou approached the group and asked if they would be interested in taking on a mental health summit. He applied for and secured a $4,000 grant on behalf of the school provided by Vancouver Canucks for Kids Fund with support from BC Children's Hospital.

“When [Vaartnou] told us that we got the grant we were so excited because they only give it to four or five schools in BC every year,” said Spenst.

The Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit is supported by Foundry BC, a provincially and privately funded organization that aims to raise awareness and help build mental health support networks for people aged 12 to 24. The group provides training and materials to host the event.

“The biggest focus is just to remove that stigma because it's such a big issue, especially in high school,” said English.

This is another area where communicating with peers can be vital, she added.

“It may be hard for students to talk to adults about their mental health or what they’re going through, whereas students helping students is a lot easier because they can connect on certain levels better than adults,” said English.

Students for Change now have the self-determination to create their own unique summit, and would appreciate the insight and input of the community as they plan, said Spenst.

“We want to spread the word for anybody who wants to get involved to reach out to us,” she added.

Spenst and English, both 17, said their involvement over the last two years with the school group has built their confidence, leadership and mentoring skills.

“Students for Change is really great for sending us off into the world,” said English. “We learn to speak up, take charge and not be scared.”

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