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Pope John Paul II program wins Tbaytel for Good award

The Grade 7 Grand-friend program was one of five grant recipients announced on Tuesday.
Mary Ellen Cain Tbaytel
Pope John Paul II Senior Elementary School Grade 7 teacher Mary Ellen Cain receives a Tbaytel for Good grant from spokesperson Kaitlin Gaspar on June 18.

THUNDER BAY – For the last 19 years, students in the Grade 7 class at Pope John Paul II Senior Elementary School have spent time with seniors at Pioneer Ridge.

Through the Grand-friend program, students have grown a connection to those who are much older than them.

“It’s been a lot of fun and a really good learning experience all year,” student Juliana Santin said.

“It teaches you communication skills and teaches you how to talk with people that aren’t in your grade,” student Ayla Busch added.

Pope John Paul II has received a boost for the Grand-friend program as they were announced as one of the recipients of this year’s Tbaytel for Good Community Fund grants on Tuesday morning.

The program received $1,600, which will be used to assist in bus transportation for the eight to 10 trips that students take from the school to Pioneer Ridge each year.

“As we all know, bussing is getting more and more expensive so this means that we are going to be able to head up there and keep doing the great things that this program allows us to do,” said Grade 7 teacher Mary Ellen Cain.

Cain has been involved with the program since it started and has seen the impact it has made on the students and on Pioneer Ridge residents.

“It can be a long day there for them and I think our visits create an energy for them and they really look forward to us coming,” Cain said.

“Some of the relationships get so good that those friendships become bigger than you can actually imagine. A few years ago, one of my students’ grand-friend had died, so she and her mother went to the funeral and everyone there knew who she was because they had seen her pictures on the side table.

“They told her just how much of a difference that she had made in her grand-friend’s life and he was always bragging about her soccer playing and her piano playing like it was one of her granddaughters.”

Pope John Paul II was one of three grant recipients from the Thunder Bay district.

Whitefish Valley Public School in Kakabeka Falls received funds to help with their kindergarten play yard project, while the Conmee Emergency Service Department has received assistance to help with the purchase of the Holmatro Pentheon PCT 60 Combi tool, which will be used to assist people in road accidents.

“We’d have never been able to afford this,” Conmee fire Chief Robb Day said. “This will help to free up more personnel and it will speed things up considerably to get someone out of a trapped vehicle and get them to the hospital.”

“This grant will make a huge impact on our school playground,” added Jennifer Skabar, who is a kindergarten teacher at Whitefish Valley. 

“We have nothing there right now and this allows us to have a multitude of equipment for the students to use.”

The other two recipients were the Dryden Fire Service, which will be providing free instillation of fire alarms to residents to help decrease the number of fire-related fatalities, and the Rainy Lake Nordic Ski Club, which will be addressing maintenance needs for their ski chalet, purchasing new equipment for their Learn to Ski Jack Rabbit program and updating their map and trail signage.

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