Warm Winter Wishes continues growth in North Wellington

A high school business class has raised $190,000 over the past 12 years with the goal of helping disadvantaged families in the community with food and clothing to make Christmas more pleasant while students sharpen business skills taught by Barb Cowan at Wellington Heights Secondary School (WHSS).

In 2002, in the former Mount Forest District High School, the business leadership class formed a charity organization called Warm Winter Wishes (WWW).

“The educational purpose was to provide students with a unique, meaningful, hands-on learning experience allowing them to practice their business skills and share their talents as they control all aspects of the business. They plan, organize and implement numerous fund-raising events with the ultimate goal of giving back to their community,” Cowan said.

What started out as a small three-week project operating six fundraising events and raising $3,000, has turned into a full semester-long project. Each year students have raised their fundraising goal and increased the number of activities. This year they chose to operate 23 activities and set a challenging goal of $26,000—all to be accomplished within a four-week period.

“Each and every year a new group of business leadership students continues the WWW tradition with amazing success. In its 12th year of operation, this year’s group set a record, raising over $31,000. In our small communities of Arthur and Mount Forest, this is truly astounding. Since the project’s inception in 2002, the WWW project has raised over $190,000 for local families and schools,” Cowan added.

WWW has grown over the years and now includes eight schools from the Mount Forest area, WHSS, and public schools Normanby, Egremont, Victoria Cross, Kenilworth, Arthur and Catholic Schools, St. Mary in Mount Forest and St. John’s in Arthur.

“Obviously, our success is a result of true community spirit,” Cowan said. “As the project has become well-known in the Arthur and Mount Forest communities, businesses, service groups, community members and parents have assisted us financially and in creative ways. We have had parents and teachers help shop, minor hockey help us run a raffle and provide ice time, toys donated from the Patriot’s Hockey team, service clubs donate money and Canadian Tire donated gift cards.”

In order for the project to work participants work closely with the school administrators and youth workers who identify families and children who would most benefit from the initiative. Using a very personalized order form, the families are contacted to find out what type of items are needed (focusing on warm clothing) and wanted by the children.

“The entire process is strictly confidential–we use only school, family and child codes to protect their anonymity” Cowan added. “After shopping, the gifts are bagged and delivered to the schools for the parents to pick up.”

This year, the success of WWW has allowed participants to purchase grocery cards from local stores for each of the families. Approximately $16,000 worth of gifts and $9,000 of grocery and gift cards were purchased with the remaining money used to support breakfast clubs at participating schools.

Cowan said the success of the program should dispel a common misconception about young people.

“The media often portrays today’s youth in a negative manner, self-indulgent trouble-makers that don’t do anything for their communities,” she said. “But, year after year, a new group of business leadership students sign-up for this course knowing that they will be required to work very hard, give up hours of their free time, be put in challenging leadership roles and have to operate under demanding time restraints. As their teacher, I am always extremely proud of their efforts & results. The excitement when they realize their financial goal and their pride when they display the gifts for the entire school is priceless.”

Cowan said the program valuable learning tools for students and when initially established had to overcome some difficulties.

“Students run a business that would generate income  since high school courses cannot be profit-making the difficulty was to ensure that it was a “not-for-profit venture.” We dealt with this by maintaining accurate financial records, spending all of the incoming money on gifts and donating remaining revenue to schools to use for their breakfast clubs.”

Another obstacle students had to overcome was maintaining confidentiality with those receiving gifts.

“I wanted the recipients of our gifts to be those that are families that, although hardworking, financially struggled and Christmas would be a particularly difficult time for them.  The problem we faced was “privacy of information”.  We couldn’t simply ask elementary principals/staff to give us names of families who could use our help. The solution to this problem was to work closely with our feeder-schools who would make contact with families that “they” identify, gather the necessary shopping information, and then code the families.  All we see is a school name, family letter, and child number.  This was it, strictly confidential,” Cowan said.

“Over the past 12 years, WWW has morphed from a small class project to the basis of the grade 12 leadership course (the students refer to it as Warm Winter Wishes Class,” Cowan said.

“Who knows what next year’s Business Leadership class will do?  The grade 11s have already promised that “they” will be the best WWW class ever and will raise yet even more money and they are already hatching schemes to make this happen. A little competitive spirit in business is a very good thing.”