Cheryl Rossi / Vancouver Courier / JULY 9, 2013

The STAND Foundation, which gives educational grants only to graduates of Vancouvers and North Vancouver’s alternative schools, is extra busy this time of year.

Troubled teens who have graduated need to figure out what they’re going to do next.

 If it wasn’t for the financial assistance they’re receiving, several have told us, they would be taking a minimum wage job and trying to get their diploma, which would take a lot longer and some of them would probably give up, said Sophie Mas, co-founder and president of the STAND Foundation.

STAND, short for Steps Towards a New Direction, is poised to give $2,200 to a graduate of Vancouver’s Pinnacle Program for his tuition, fees, transportation and special equipment for an auto service technician course and $2,900 to a graduate of the Spectrum Program to study psychology and sociology at Langara College.

Grant applicants don’t need top grades. They need to be referred by a teacher or counsellor, explain the challenges they’ve faced, their educational and career goals and provide a budget of what they need to complete their first year of post-secondary training.

Mas said most applicants hail from single-parent homes. Some have fathers in jail and mothers on welfare. Problems with mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction abound among applicants and their families and most teens have been kicked out of their homes.

We’ve had some who have been living in a shelter because their mother was being abused There was one kid who was a 14-year-old living on the streets, addicted to heroin and also dealing with the fact that he was homosexual and came out to his parents and [it] didnt go well, Mas said. We had one recipient who didnt know his father, his mother was a crack addict and was a prostitute Sometimes I think its just a miracle that they’ve been able to get through Grade 12 because of what they’ve had to deal with.

Mas and her friend Jeff Sundar, who works in the mining industry, started STAND in 2007 to give back to the community.

Mas had previously worked for the Ministry of the Attorney General in the provincial prostitution unit.

I saw a lot of examples of young people who were getting involved in drugs and youth sexual exploitation, Mas said. I realized that if you can help those kids at the right moment then its going to make the whole difference between them potentially leading a life of poverty and crime and abuse or going on to something entirely different.

The volunteer-run STAND has raised half a million dollars and given $176,000 in 63 grants. Many of its donors are individuals and organizations in the financial and mining sectors. STAND holds an endowment fund with the Vancouver Foundation.

Recipients have become accountants, mortgage brokers and legal assistants. Many of them volunteer or enter helping professions, Mas said.

But first they need to be bolstered by an organization that believes in them enough to give them the money they need to complete that first year.

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