• Teacher Koryn Heisler with Barj and Rita Dhahan

    News: John Oliver alumni start fund to feed kids

    Dhahan family’s endowment aims to give $5,000 annual grant for school’s life skills program.

    By Gerry Bellett, originally published in The Vancouver Sun on Dec 25, 2013.

    Vancouver businessman Barj Dhahan wants to ensure teacher Koryn Heisler will never again have to worry about how to feed those severely disabled and impoverished students attending her life skills class at east Vancouver’s John Oliver Secondary.

    Dhahan who attended John Oliver — as did his wife Rita, his two sisters and much of his family — is seeking to raise a $100,000 endowment which could result in the school’s life skills program receiving an annual grant of around $5,000.

    “Both my wife and I went to this school and we are really touched by the work Koryn is doing,” said Dhahan.

    “I have already got $20,000 committed to the endowment and I will be going to other family members to add to it and I am also appealing to former JO students to help raise it,” said Dhahan.

    “We want to make sure that this teacher and these children are going to be protected against the kind of budget cuts that removes her ability to teach or help feed her students,” said Dhahan who is president of Sandhurst Group, one of the largest franchise holders of Tim Horton’s restaurants and Esso service stations in Metro Vancouver, among other commercial real estate holdings.

    What Dhahan is proposing has never been done before for any school that has been part of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign.

    At the end of November, Heisler was at her wit’s end trying to protect her students from the worst effects of budget cuts and had asked the Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for help.

    Heisler was faced with students arriving at school without having eaten breakfast and with little or nothing to eat for the rest of the day. She was using up her meagre classroom funds to feed them porridge and toast in the morning. But the money would have run out by spring, and she would have had to pay for the food herself — as she did last year.

    Heisler was also hobbled as the stove she was supposed to use to teach students how to cook sat useless in the corner because the school district’s budget didn’t provide the $800 needed to hook it up.

    However, following a Vancouver Sun Adopt-A-School story of her plight Nov. 21, offers of help came flooding in.

    “It was amazing,” said Heisler who met with Dhahan and his wife just before school ended for Christmas holidays.

    “We had people stopping by that first week giving me money and asking how they could help and the phone never stopped ringing with offers of support and donations. People were sending in Christmas cards with money inside and dropping off food and casseroles.

    “It was completely overwhelming.”

    The Vancouver South Lions Club which operated a Christmas Tree lot on school property came in with a $400 donation for food and committed to pay for having the stove hooked up.

    “The work order for the stove has gone in and hopefully it will be on the priority list for January,” said Heisler.

    The money she has received so far is being spent on improving breakfast for the 12 students in her class.

    “Right after the article came out we went on a big shopping trip and revamped our breakfast program. Now we give them eggs, toast, fruit, yogurt — it’s a healthy breakfast now,” she said.

    Dhahan was greatly impressed with Heisler.

    “What she is doing is beyond the call of duty. She’s working in a very challenging environment without the many things she needs yet she is very peaceful and quiet and has an inner strength and conviction. She’s a wonderful teacher and the kids are very lucky to have such a compassionate and caring person,” he said.

    “I think as a society we often don’t recognize the amazing work teachers like Koryn are doing in the school system,” he said.

    Dhahan, who has donated before to Adopt-A-School, said he was upset with the idea that the most needy of children appeared to be suffering the most from education cutbacks.

    “Whether by birth or circumstances or upbringing there are some of us in society who are disadvantaged and resources should not be pulled away from those people. If we can help them be self-reliant, society gets paid back in the long term,” he said.

    Anyone interested in contributing to the endowment can contact John Oliver school principal Tim McGeer at 604-713-8938.

Comments are closed.