WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Nicholas Arrotta leads a nutrition quiz with a student while teacher Richard Harris looks on.
EDMONTON — With gambling revenue now an unacceptable way to fund Catholic schools, some parents have questioned where money for necessary programs would come from.
Rather than panic, university students Nicholas Arrotta and Ryan McCoy decided to act. Knowing they could not single-handedly fund all school programs, they decided to do what they could. Out of that desire came their school-based healthy living program called Kickstart for Kids.
"We decided to do what we can and get snacks to these kids twice a week," said Arrotta, a second-year U of A physiology student.
They will provide nutritious snacks every Monday and Friday to about 270 students at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Millwoods at 7712-36 Ave. On Feb. 2 they presented the nutrition aspect of the program.
A major sponsor of the program is Cougar Tools. Representatives from the downhole drilling tools manufacturer donate food and coordinate volunteers to prepare and serve the snacks.
Lien Bui oversees community relations for Cougar Tools, a company committed to helping charities that lack funding. "For this school we already provide emergency lunches for 20 kids on Tuesday and Friday," said Bui.
"When I contacted the school about Cougar Tools providing snacks, the principal told me the same day she had received an email from Nick and Ryan," said Bui. So Cougar Tools and the ambitious university students joined forces.
"Nick and Ryan can do the presentations, teaching kids about healthy eating and staying active because nowadays we find that some kids don't learn those things at home," said Bui.
Cougar Tools promised to provide snacks to St. Elizabeth School for at least the rest of this school year and next year.
"Snacks are important, but all of the kids who get the snacks through the program, they still don't know what's healthy, what's not," said Arrotta. "When we give them a snack, we'll also educate them."
Beyond the nutrition component, they implemented a program to teach students how to live a healthy lifestyle — everything from exercising regularly to the importance of brushing their teeth.
"Instead of focusing on mainly nutrition, we developed a program, and it has four pillars: self-esteem, physical education, nutrition and hygiene," said McCoy.
A principal told Arrotta that when some children are hungry, they do not come to school. The snacks will feed these hungry students, and perhaps even motivate them to attend.
"It's all about pushing them in the right directions. It's not just about feeding them. It's an all-encompassing program that really helps their lives progress," said Arrotta.
Arrotta and McCoy talk about the opportunities in life that they have had, opportunities that some underprivileged children never get.
"We've had so many things presented to us that got us to where we are in our lives today, through sports, through school, good family dynamics," said McCoy. "Essentially we want to go in there and plant a seed, so even if they're not learning it in the home, they are still getting the education they need on how they should clean themselves and how they should live and what's good to eat."
Their long-term goal is to expand the program and launch similar programs in other Catholic schools in Edmonton.
It doesn't take much for a group of individuals to get together and raise some money, McCoy said. "That little bit can go a long way. Also we think we can be good role models for the students as well," said McCoy. "Sometimes it's hard for elementary students to talk to teachers or they might be scared to. But regular guys like ourselves, we could possibly be a big brother figure or at least show them what we have learned."
Being raised Roman Catholic and getting a Catholic education prepared the two young men for this type of venture.
"We were always taught to share, and always taught to help others in need," said Arrotta. "If you can do something to help another person, you should do it. That's always been our mindset."