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Needy students catch a break thanks to Ottawa charity

The Help Our Students Program will give $1,000 to two students in every Ottawa high school next year, thanks to a recent rush of donations.

Richard Lussier is giving back to 107 high school students next year.

Emma Jackson/Metro

Richard Lussier is giving back to 107 high school students next year.

More than 100 needy kids will get a leg up next year as an Orleans-based charity triples its reach.

The Help Our Students Program started six years ago, giving three hard-working, financially needy high school students $100 a month to cover daily expenses.

But the flow of donations has been steadily increasing, until a recent deluge has meant the charity can now jump from its current 36-student roster to a list of 107 kids.

“It’s just been growing and growing,” said founder Richard Lussier. “People like what we’re doing.”

For the first time, two students in every Ottawa high school will get funding come September, plus a few extra.

The students can spend the money how they wish, as long as they promise to work hard in school, Lussier said.

“For a lot of these kids, its not just getting through school, it’s getting through life,” Lussier said. “They use it to buy groceries.”

Lussier knows a thing or two about the hardships of a broke student.

At 17, Lussier was ready to drop out of his first year of military college.

But his father somehow scrounged up $100 – a huge amount in 1962 – and told him to keep going.

Lussier finished school and went on to a successful career.

“That $100 basically saved my life,” he said. “This is payback for what my dad did for me.”

Grade 11 student Jake Edwards couldn’t believe it when he discovered the program was going to give him $1,000.

“I was dumbstruck,” Edwards said.

Edwards is one of four boys in his household, which he said “isn’t poor, but we can’t live a lavish lifestyle.”

He had to drop out of an outdoors course because he couldn’t afford the $200 fee for canoeing lessons and a trip to Algonquin Park.

With the bursary money in hand, Edwards decided to go on a class trip to New York City.

He said he looks forward to giving back in a similar way someday.

“The way it’s made me feel, I want to make someone else feel,” he said.

Letters of thanks

Students who receive a $100 monthly bursary from the Help Our Students Program are asked to reflect each December and June on how the money has helped them. Here’s a sample of what they wrote:

  • “I have been able to carry a lunch pack for myself, because I know that my young brothers and sisters at least have enough to eat.”
  • “The new clothes make me feel like the other kids around me.”
  • “There is only so much you can do before you are forced to go to the food bank, or skip a holiday, or forget about vacations. That is why this gift means so much to me, because it broke those standards.”
  • “It has allowed me to feel more normal; that I could go out once in a while and relax was a stress reliever.”
  • “Last week, I applied to college. Without the HOST program, the application fee would have been a burden, but … a weight has been lifted off all of our shoulders.”
  • “I was able to enjoy my final year and not worry if I'll be able to get to school that day, since I could afford a bus pass.”
  • “I have been able to help my little brother become a normal kid. Christmas wasn’t late and he received things that weren't second hand.”
  • “I feel like someone does care about me and my future. It makes me want to do the best I can in school to be successful and be able to give back.”

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