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Handsworth Secondary students win $5K grant for local domestic abuse charity

North Vancouver’s North Shore Crisis Services Centre will put the funds into building new long-term safe houses
Handsworth Secondary students Fiona Carnell, Aryana Mehjoo and Keava McCormack chose the North Vancouver's North Shore Crisis Services Centre as their charity of choice. | Megan McCormack

Three Ecole Handsworth Secondary students have won a $5,000 grant for the North Shore Crisis Services Society, for their efforts in raising awareness around domestic abuse.

Grade 10 students Keava McCormack, Aryana Mehjoo and Fiona Carnell competed in the final of Handsworth Secondary’s Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, a program which sees students across the country choose a local charity to investigate, interview, and curate a project on.

While others shone a light on topics such as homelessness and mental health, the three teenagers tackled family violence – an issue McCormack is all too familiar with.

When she was four-years-old, the North Shore Crisis Services Society, an organization that establishes emergency safe accommodation for women and their children, helped her and her mother escape her abusive father, she said.

“I wanted to give back to those who saved my life, and helped my family.”

With the subject matter so “controversial,” McCormack said the three hadn’t been expecting to take home the prize, and their focus had been more on raising awareness than it had been winning the competition.

“We picked this organization because we wanted to make this conversation more accessible to more people in our grade, and in our school in general,” said Mehjoo.

“There’s this big injustice around how women are treated and children are treated when they are in vulnerable situations like this, and we just felt the need to help these people and make others more aware of what they are going through.”

Sandra Lee of the North Shore Crisis Services Society said the $5,000 grant will go towards supporting the centre’s second stage housing program, one of three programs that offer safe and secure family units in North Vancouver.

Lee said this is a step beyond the traditional, transitional housing; these units that house women and their children for up to 18 months, time that gives them access to more long-term support and ensures they can continue work or school in a safe environment. 

“We’ve had clients in these homes who have successfully graduated from their master’s degree or diplomas, or successfully completed job training, because their family has been granted the time and the space that they need,” said Lee.

“This $5,000 is really going to help us sustain and grow this program, and that feels amazing. We are so, so grateful.”

Lee said the team commend the students for their enthusiasm and curiosity, and for being brave enough to broach such a difficult issue.

“It’s not an easy topic. Even as full grown adults it’s hard to really find a good, comfortable space to address these issues and process them, either with your community or by yourself,” she said.

“These three girls were incredibly courageous in combating this issue and helping us advocate for something so important.”

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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