Voyageurs Never Fear Travelling the Extra Mile

Funding from ECF helps staff at M.E. LaZerte provide ongoing support for students and their families

At M.E. LaZerte High School, being a Voyageur has always meant to “inspire passion [and] change lives.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members decided to take the school’s motto one step further and change the lives of students and their families during some of their most difficult moments.

Lisa Casillas is one of those staff members.

As a Youth Worker for the school, Casillas’ role includes working with a team of four counsellors to support students and their families with their food, clothing, shelter, housing, educational and/or emotional needs. When the pandemic hit, Casillas knew those needs were not going away soon.

“I just noticed a need for ongoing food support, ongoing financial support through bus passes and a lunch program at school. Any needs that we had before are not going away,” says Casillas.

Aspiring to do more to change the lives of their students, Casillas and her team reached out to Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) for support.

“We reached out and got a grant for our students and their families,” she shares. “We’ve been using that for providing bus passes and bus tickets to our families that need a little bit of extra help with transportation. We have been helping out with providing some groceries and weekly food hampers that myself and volunteers deliver. And as well, we have a lunch program at school. If we know that students are in need … we provide them [with] lunch every day.”

“We were able to provide M.E. Lazerte with $10,000 from our COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “Helping students cover the cost of public transportation during this difficult time is a perfect fit for the mandate of this unique fund.”

Casillas explains that school-based support is nothing new for M.E. LaZerte. When Covid arrived, they began delivering Chromebooks to students to support virtual learning. It was then that Casillas and other staff members saw the need to do even more.

“As we got back to school in September, we recognized that there was still a large need in our community. So that’s how we got connected with the Edmonton Community Foundation,” she explains. “[There’s] a lot of gratefulness. We care about [the students], and we are doing our best. We are literally trying to support them in any way we can.”

Casillas says that by helping students with their basic needs, they can focus more on learning and reaching their goals. While it’s “not often that you see school staff show up on your front step with a food hamper,” Casillas adds that part of being a Voyageur means going beyond education to support your community.

For staff and students at M.E. LaZerte, going the extra mile is just a part of who they are.

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.