• John Oliver Alumni Pledge

    News: John Oliver alumni pledge to raise $100,000

    John Oliver Alumni Pledge to Raise $100,000 for Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund

    Originally published by Vancouver School Board on January 21, 2014.

    A group of John Oliver Secondary alumni, spearheaded by local business owners Barj and Rita Dhahan, has established the Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund to support the school’s reading programs and raise funds targeted at student literacy.

    Administration, staff and alumni were all smiles on Monday morning when they met on the John Oliver Secondary School steps to celebrate the community’s commitment to literacy at the school with a cheque presentation of $22 000.

    “As an alumnus of John Oliver, I believe it is important to provide equal opportunity to all students and enhancing student literacy is an important way to give back to the community,” says Barj Dhahan. “We care deeply about, and feel connected to, our community and school.”

    Looking for ways to contribute and give back to the school, the Dhahan family learned of John Oliver’s recent Wonder of Reading campaign and they committed to reach out to their community on behalf of the school once again. The alumni community is aiming to raise $100 000 for their former high school.

    The money raised will support the many reading and literacy initiatives the school has undertaken, including the Wonder of Reading, night school classes that boast an almost 100 percent success rate with at risk and vulnerable students, programs in which John Oliver students engage with preschool and elementary aged children and their families in reading support, after school tutor clubs run by students for students, and reading programs aimed at students on school sports and other teams.

    To view photos CLICK HERE.

  • Barj Dhahan Literacy Funding

    News: Grads repay school with gift of reading

    Vancouver couple leads fundraising drive for literacy program.

    By Cheryl Rossi, originally published in Vancouver Courier on January 21, 2014.

    John Oliver alumni Barj Dhahan and his wife Rita are funding a breakfast program at the school for disabled students for the next three and a half years.

    When Barj and Rita Dhahan heard in November about disabled students arriving with empty stomachs at John Oliver secondary school, they decided to fund the life skills class’s breakfast program for the next three and a half years.

    “We both looked at each other and I said, you know Rita, this is our school, we went here. I think we should do something,” Barj Dhahan said.

    And when JO principal Tim McGeer made a presentation to the Fraserview Rotary Club, to which Dhahan belongs, about the Sunset school’s extensive literacy programs, they acted again by leading fellow John Oliver alumni to pledge raising $100,000 for the school’s Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund.

    The Kerrisdale couple and JO graduates presented cheques totalling $22,500 at the Sunset school Monday morning, ahead of Family Literacy Day Jan. 27. Much of the money came from the Dhahans and their family members, with contributions from other former students.
    John Oliver secondary, along with 23 community partners, held a massive literacy event in September to launch its Wonder of Reading campaign.

    Low levels of interest in books, reading and language have been reported in the Sunset community.

    “The educational attainment [of] 16 per cent of the JO parent population is about Grade 9,” McGeer said.

    Some homes lack books, the money to buy them or the understanding that literacy is linked to brain development and dropout rates, he added.

    McGeer says teachers at JO have noticed that a significant percentage of their students are starting Grade 8 with Grade 3 or 4 reading skills. They start preschool with a deficit that continues throughout their education.

    “These kids are just as smart, just as able, just as loved as any other kid, they haven’t had access or engagement with literature, it’s just that simple,” McGeer said.
    “The more they read the more neural connections you create, the more language you have, the more neural resilience you have. You apply that to different areas of your schooling and your life. The more you read the more you dream, the bigger you dream because it just is creating brain capacity.”

    Dhahan attended JO for grades 11 and 12, graduating alongside Rita in 1975.
    A commercial property owner and Tim Hortons and Esso gas station franchisee, Dhahan recalls three English, creative writing and literature teachers at John Oliver who inspired his appreciation of reading and writing.

    “We’ve been really blessed so we feel this is a small way to give back to the school that provided me a great education,” Dhahan said.

    “Not only for economic prosperity, but for wellness and health and the community’s prosperity, we need to ensure that our kids have equal access to learning.”

    He said his desire to help comes from his upbringing.

    “I was raised up with the idea that whatever you earn, give a tenth of that to those who are in your community,” he said. “Give wherever there are needs.”

    Dhahan said anyone interested in donating to John Oliver should call the school.

    Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet

  • Teacher Koryn Heisler with Barj and Rita Dhahan

    News: Donations help feed special-needs students

    Alumni come to the rescue at John Oliver Secondary. Donations to help feed special-needs students and fund literacy program.

    By Gerry Bellett, originally published in The Vancouver Sun on January 20, 2014.

    Several members of the grad class of 1975 showed up at John Oliver Secondary on Monday, bringing with them $22,500 in cash and cheques and a promise to raise a $100,000 endowment to ensure teacher Koryn Heisler’s special-needs students never go hungry again.

    Vancouver businessman Barj Dhahan and his wife Rita, both John Oliver grads, are spearheading the drive to raise the funds as a result of a Vancouver Sun Adopt-A-School story in November that described Heisler’s struggle to feed some severely disabled students in her life-skills class.

    “That’s why we are here, because of that story,” said Dhahan as he and his fellow grads met principal Timothy McGeer in the lobby of the East Vancouver school where the group handed over the $22,500.

    About $10,500 of the money went directly to Heisler so she can provide breakfast, lunch and snacks for her students, a number of whom come to school hungry, without having had breakfast and with no food to see them through the day.

    “That’s the money from myself and Rita,” said Dhahan. “The rest (raised from among his family and former grads) is to be used to start the endowment.”

    He was accompanied by his two sisters, a niece, and his wife’s parents, all of whom have ties to John Oliver.

    The $10,500, plus another $4,000 received from other donors after The Sun’s story appeared, will enable Heisler to feed her class for at least three years.

    Before the donations, she had been feeding them out of her own pocket.

    “It’s just wonderful. It’s so overwhelming what people have done for us,” said Heisler. “It will mean so much for the children.”

    The endowment will be used to provide food for Heisler’s class and to support the school’s Wonder of Reading Program designed to help students having difficulty with literacy, said McGeer.

    “I’d like to express my sincere thanks and deepest appreciation for the kind generosity of the John Oliver alumni coming together to support our life-skills program and the Wonder of Reading literacy fund. It’s only through partnerships like this that we can do what we need in order to support our students,” said McGeer.

    Dhahan said the necessity of feeding hungry children speaks for itself, but he also wanted to help students struggling with literacy and numeracy and has been contacting old school friends for help with the endowment.

    “My parents were immigrants, I was an immigrant, so I know about challenges with English literacy and numeracy and the need for help after school. We want all kids to have equal opportunity in reading and numeracy so they can excel in school and in life beyond,” said Dhahan.

    Artist Jeanette Lee, who attended John Oliver with Dhahan and Rita, said she was glad Dhahan had contacted her for help.

    “John Oliver gave me opportunity in my life, so it’s wonderful that we have this chance to be there for these kids,” said Lee, who recently won an award for public art in Richmond.

    Dhahan will be working on the endowment with his school friends and Pal Beesla, who graduated in 2000 and is a member of the executive of the Khalsa Diwan Society, which Dhahan said was the oldest Indian organization in North America.

    “We will be working with Pal to promote the endowment and develop a fundraising event involving the society later this year,” said Dhahan.

    Any person who wishes to donate to the endowment can contact McGeer at the school at 604-713-8938.

    Photograph by: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun