Shift the conversation: Education

The first domain to be featured in the series is education. Education is a strong predictor of wellbeing and quality of life. Educational achievement is linked to higher levels of wellbeing, especially among adolescents, and helps to give individuals the tools they need to participate in social and economic life.

The Back to School Community Store

The Back to School Community Store, led by the Centre de Santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury, supports a solid start in school for children and youth which can be a protective health factor for a lifetime.

Based on the Magasin Partage model developed in Montreal, where over seventy such stores exist, this initiative is grounded in values of solidarity and empowerment. It takes place each year during the month of August, and is held in partnership with a number of agencies, and with the financial support of many community partners.  This initiative has been very successful, with close to 1,000 individuals benefiting from it to acquire back to school supplies at a minimal cost.

Back to school is a period known for expenditures which may lead to financial difficulties. The estimated cost to prepare a child to return to school is about $ 200 to $ 400, leaving many families with a difficult choice: pay the rent or buy school supplies.

The store offers families brand new school supplies at 10% of the actual cost, which they can pay either through a cash contribution, or through volunteer work with the store. Many choose to do both. And most of those who volunteer, exceed the hours that they have to work to cover the cost of the supplies.

At the same time, however, the Back to School Community Store allows low income families the opportunity to familiarize themselves with services provided by local agencies with the purpose supporting to this target population. It also allows the participants to access services on site. For example, children can get their immunizations brought up to date or receive a dental screening or cleaning through the Health Unit; parents can sign their children up for subsidies to support after school activities with the Human League; mothers can get information about parenting or counseling services; and fathers can find out about low cost recreational activities to do with their children.

The success of this Community Store depends not only on the commitment and participation of our partners, sponsors and funders, but also on the participation of the low income families who become involved.

This project has great potential to be applied in other settings, in fact we reproduced it from a very urban setting in Quebec. It also has enormous potential to be scaled up and have a much greater impact on the lives of low income families.

We are at that crossroads today. After four years, it is time to take the Back to School Community Store a notch higher in terms of impact. We are exploring this with the participants and with our partners and funders.