The power of higher learning

The power of higher learning

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This is a guest post from Metro Care and Share Society
(Member since 2015)


Joey Fitzpatrick

In his more than three decades of philanthropy Mel Boutilier has met many people and heard many stories. But some memories stand out above the rest. He remembers meeting one client at the Parker Street Food Bank, a young lady who had lost faith in her own potential. She was a high school dropout and her own mother had told her to forget about getting an education because she was unlikely to amount to anything.

“We told her she could become something — she could take courses and start right now. This went on for months,” Boutilier recalls. “Then one day she came in and told us she had signed up to study for her GED.”

It was some time later that Boutilier and his wife were special guests at a graduation ceremony where the same young woman was the valedictorian as she received her GED.

“So many young people just need someone to have faith in them,” Boutilier says. “They just need the encouragement.”

Boutilier has always been an advocate for expanding access to education. He started the Parker Street Food Bank in 1983, which was later moved to Maynard Street, while retaining its original name.

“We expanded it to include a classroom with 12 computer stations for people on social assistance,” he recalls. “We had a full-time instructor.”

Through his work at the food bank Boutilier met many families who had school-aged children, but who lacked the resources to support their higher education once they finished high school.

“The families wanted so badly for their children to continue their education,” he recalls. “But so many of them were dropping out and doing odd jobs or not doing anything.”

It was a little more than four years ago that Boutilier put a committee together to see what could be done. At the time he had a registered charity with the name Metro Care and Share already in place, bringing trailers of Florida citrus to Nova Scotia, but that program had ceased activity a few years previously when the high exchange rate made it untenable.

“I checked with the Registry of Joint Stock Companies to see if that name had been taken by somebody and when we learned it hadn’t we took it back,” he recalls. “We put together a board, did all the paperwork and applied to Canada Revenue Agency for a tax number.”

Metro Care and Share Society (MCSS) was established in 2015 as a charity to help youth from low income families attend university and college in Nova Scotia. Its signature program, the Halifax Scholars Program, provides financial assistance for application fees, tuition, textbooks, living and transportation expenses. Students accepted into the program also receive a range of interactive services, including mentoring, to ensure their academic and vocational success. A committee assesses the applications and students must meet certain academic criteria to be eligible.

MCSS currently has 10 students participating in the Halifax Scholars Program. Five are enrolled at Saint Mary’s University, two are enrolled at Dalhousie University, one at Saint Anne and two at St.FX.

All MCSS scholars have their own compelling stories to tell. Nisha Adhikari spent the first years of her life in a refugee camp in Nepal and came to Canada when she was eight years old. She remembers losing many of her friends and out of that experience grew a strong desire to help others in need. Along with a full course load in her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at St.FX, Adhikari now volunteers where her schedule permits. She helps raise funds for MCSS to pay for her and her fellow scholars’ tuition and living costs for the school year.

MSCC is continuously fundraising to support its current and future scholars. The entrance to its property on Agricola Street is like a small general store, with a range of non-perishable items for sale. The merchandise is courtesy of one of MCSS’s corporate partners.

“They give us a steady supply of both new products and damaged cartons,” Boutilier explains. That operation helps pay for MCSS’s overhead, so that any money donated goes directly to the students.

“It costs an average of $13,000 to put one of our scholars through university each year. A gift of any amount goes a long way to make this possible.”

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