Written by Lauren Hortie (OSF teacher) and Craig Morrison (OSF founder and teacher)

Graduating StudentThis year the Oasis Skateboard Factory (OSF) was honoured to win the Eva’s Award for Ending Youth Homelessness. OSF is a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) alternative high school program for at-risk youth where students develop transferable creative and entrepreneurial skills by running a skateboard design business.

Winning this award is a huge gain for our program. Over the course of six years, we’ve worked with students who haven’t been successful in traditional schools for a variety of reasons; poverty, homelessness, mental health, racism, homophobia, learning disabilities and just plain lack of engagement. With Eva’s support, we can continue to offer highly engaging programming that helps youth see their potential beyond the traditional school system and take steps to a brighter future.

Many schools offer art programming, but OSF is unique in that we offer art and entrepreneurship, tying in youth passion for subcultures like skateboarding and street art. When people look at a skateboard, they might just see a rolling plank of wood, or a children’s toy or a nuisance. When OSF looks at a skateboard, we see carpentry, business and visual art. We see hard work, focus, time management, follow through and the satisfaction that comes with creating something with your own two hands.

With OSF’s focus on designing and creating objects, our budget for consumable materials is much larger than the standard TDSB school allotment. However, looking at our success rates you can see that the program is well worth it. At the end of the 2014/2015 school year, we had over a 90% passing rate with previously non-attending, non-achieving youth. Thanks to Eva’s, next year we can focus on delivering the best possible education and life experiences to at-risk youth instead of worrying about the financial viability of the program.

The best part of winning the Eva’s Award was having representatives from Eva’s present the award at our year-end graduation ceremony. At the ceremony there were parents who thought they’d never see their child graduate posing for photos with their kid in a cap and gown – on a skateboard of course! Youth who had never attended school before won awards for leadership and all students had the opportunity to proudly display and sell the work they had created over the course of the semester. When we were awarded the award plaque, students erupted in applause, happy to know that a program that has meant so much in transforming their lives will continue to help others. Thanks again to Eva’s – winning the award is an amazing honour!

Eva’s, the Sprott Foundation and Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, are pleased to offer four awards of $25,000 each for organizations working with homeless and at-risk youth. These awards challenge us to think beyond the emergency needs of vulnerable youth. The goal of ending homelessness means equipping youth in multiple domains of their lives to achieve greater and longer lasting stability. It also means program impacts that have results on different levels—from housing outcomes, for example, to skill building, employment, improved health and other outcomes.

 

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