When a student enters the Shania Kids Can Clubhouse at Irwin Memorial P.S. in Dwight, they’re greeted by the welcoming smile of program leader Nicole Caracciolo—or Miss C. as her students call her.
The program, which provides a safe, confidence-building environment for students, was started by musician Shania Twain. “Shania vowed long ago to help children who are experiencing the same suffering she did as a child,” says Caracciolo. “Growing up, Shania faced economic and social barriers that affected her academic performance and overall school experience.”
A research story published by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child in March 2015 noted that, “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.” For the students in Irwin’s SKC Clubhouse, Caracciolo is one of those adults.
She has been working with Shania Kids Can for the last eight years—the program at Irwin has been running for 14 years—and acknowledges that she is neither counsellor nor teacher; rather she is the students’ “go-to person”.
“They come to me with everything and anything,” she says, adding that there are many things students might need an ear for, including stressors at home, struggles with siblings or classmates, and of course academics. “I’m here to help them through it and offer guidance and support.”
And how do the kids feel about it?
“I love it!” one exclaims.
Caracciolo has created such a supportive space for the kids that many remain fond of both her and the Clubhouse long after they graduate.
Students in grades one through six who may need extra support are selected for the SKC program by referral or staff recommendation. In the program, academic and social skills are a priority to ensure success in both life and school, but the participants are also offered much more than just one-on-one time with Caracciolo.
“We try to give kids opportunities that they wouldn’t normally receive at home,” she says.
Caracciolo speaks proudly of the local community that has so generously helped the SKC Clubhouse offer activities to the students over the years through in-kind or cash donations. Even transportation has been previously donated.
The kids have been to the farm at Deerhurst Resort, trekked through Algonquin Park, and visited the local radio station and a seniors’ residence. Local musicians, artisans and business owners have donated their time and energy to share their skills and talents with the kids—everything from guitar lessons and yoga to baking holiday cookies.
The Clubhouse is plastered with pictures and memories from those activities and more. “A lot of the kids have never had these experiences before,” says Caracciolo.
In previous years, the SKC Clubhouse at Irwin has been able to secure donations to provide these experiences, and Caracciolo is turning to the local community to help ensure that it can continue to do so.
According to SKC program manager, Sandy MacNevin, “The program in Dwight has been fully funded by Shania/Shania Kids Can since inception. All of our programs rely heavily on community partners to support the program. The program in Dwight runs on a very tight budget, SKC donates enough each year to ensure staffing funds are in place, this leaves very little budget for programming supplies.”
MacNevin says that she often hears from school principals that the SKC program is transformational, “…not just for the students in the program, but for the entire school population.”
There are many families in the Irwin school community who are unable, for myriad reasons, to provide sufficient supports at home. These challenges, which can befall anyone, have an impact on the children; the SKC Clubhouse works hard to help where they can to alleviate some of the stress. This has included purchasing some basic and necessary items like hygiene products, indoor shoes, winter boots and coats, and prescription glasses. Ensuring that they have these necessities helps the kids to feel included. “The SKC Clubhouse at Irwin is a safe place where they can go for help without jeopardizing their parents’ dignity or their own,” says Caracciolo.
On average, about 30 students attend the converted Irwin classroom and participate in events each year. The SKC Clubhouse knows the importance of community involvement and ensures that they give back, too―each year the students volunteer at The Table Soup Kitchen, stocking shelves and sorting donations.
The SKC Clubhouse at Irwin is asking the local community to assist where they can to ensure the continued success of the program. If you are interested in offering a financial or in-kind donation, contact Nicole Caracciolo at 705-635-2232 or [email protected]
For more details on Shania Kids Can, visit shaniakidscan.com.
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