Lake Cowichan grants unusual, but will benefit whole town

Two unusual requests stood out from the Town of Lake Cowichan’s grants-in-aid list this spring.

Lake Cowichan town council pared the requests down by almost half but the municipality is still handing out $4,800 in grants-in-aid for 2015. This includes $1,000 for a request for a digital sign from Lake Cowichan School Parent Advisory Council and $500 for a morning program at Palsson Elementary School.

It’s not common to see municipalities handing out money for school programs or to parent advisory councils but Lake Cowichan is an unusual case, according to Mayor Ross Forrest and Coun. Tim McGonigle.

Forrest explained that neither request came from the school board or the schools themselves.

Helping Palsson with a morning program is based on "a concern that is held in our community," he said.

Island Health’s Dr. Paul Hasselback has reported in recent years that Lake Cowichan’s young children are significantly less ready for school than kids in many other areas. While the school district is attempting to find ways to help them, the overall community remains concerned. So much so, in fact, that the Our Cowichan Communities Health Network has scheduled a special community meeting for Monday, May 4 starting at 7 p.m. to talk about "the dramatic worsening" in the early childhood index for the Lake area.

But, in the meantime, Lake Cowichan council is stepping up to help by giving a grant-in-aid to the Palsson program.

"We’ve heard of many students going to schools hungry and it’s affecting their learning abilities. So that’s part of it; they’re trying to help that. We engaged to give them $300 to help that along," Forrest said.

McGonigle was able to flesh that out with a bit more information.

"It’s a branch out of a program that began over at Lake Cowichan middle school that the principal wanted to try at the elementary school."

That not only addressed hunger but tardiness, he said.

"By offering an early morning exercise and nutrition program they are hoping that it will encourage parents to get the students there on time for this program."

It could easily do so, based on the experience at Lake Cowichan School.

"Attendance with that initial program increased by 40 per cent, so she’s looking at similar results and going along with EDI numbers that Dr. Hasselback brings to us year after year, we’re hoping that will also help with that as well," McGonigle said.

Forrest explained that the request for a digital sign board comes from the PAC.

"The town has looked at that as an opportunity for collaboration with them for advertising purposes. It’s also of benefit to ourselves here. If the town needs to get information out, such as about boil water advisories, the digital sign board will be really useful for us as well. The more people we can get information to at all times on any issues the better. It’s a local asset," he said. After recent budget discussions, the rest of the grants-in-aid will go to Cowichan Lake Lady of the Lake ($500 for parade and pageant expenses), Cowichan Lake River Stewardship Society ($500 for ongoing stewardship at Saywell Park), Lake Cowichan Downtown Renewal Society ($1,000 for a Lake Cowichan farmers market), Scouts Canada ($500), Summer Nights ($500 for music in the park: a grant that is still waiting to see if the program will run at all this year) and Lake Cowichan Secondary School ($500 for a scholarship).