Featured Vancouverite: Sophie Mas

Sophie Mas Hometown: Montpellier, France

How long have been a Vancouverite?
I have been living in Vancouver for 18 years. I moved from the south of France to Victoria, BC then to Vancouver. As much as I love France, Vancouver is home to me.

Occupation:
I am the Co-Founder and President of the STAND (Step Towards A New Direction) Foundation — a private foundation that helps marginalized youth in Greater Vancouver access education and skills training. STAND created a unique grant program for students from alternative school programs who wouldn’t be able to successfully compete for more traditional scholarships. This grant program offers financial assistance to those youth who come from poverty, and have experienced tremendous personal challenges, such as crime, substance use, mental illness, abuse and neglect, so that they can pursue post-secondary education and/or skills training.

STAND has helped 68 youth go to college/university/trades’ programs for a total of $194,000 awarded in grants. 65% of the money raised to date has been placed in a permanent endowment fund managed by the Vancouver Foundation. On average, a $4,000 to $5,000 grant will put a youth through college or trades’ school for a year, and will pay for all costs including transportation. It helps them get through the door and once there, they have access to other financial assistance and have a much better chance of getting a job. For more information about STAND, please visit our website at www.standfoundation.com, along with Twitter and Facebook.

What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of operating a public program like STAND in the city?
The idea behind STAND was that if we could get to marginalized youth early enough and help them open doors with post-secondary training, we could profoundly impact their lives. There is nothing more rewarding than giving these youth an opportunity to achieve their dreams of higher education. It’s giving them a way to better their lives and avoid pitfalls like addiction, homelessness, depression, or the burden of taking a huge amount of debt to pursue their education. Sustaining our fundraising efforts in tough economic times has been challenging. Most of the current sponsors are from the mining and financial industries, which have both been impacted by the recession. Thanks to a new partnership with Recruiting Social, a Vancouver-based recruiting agency that is giving back 10% of their placement fees to STAND, we have been able to maintain our grant program.

How do local educational institutions work to support a range of children and youth in the city of Vancouver?
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) Alternative Education Programs are critical in supporting some of the city’s most vulnerable students. VSB Alternative Education runs 23 programs enrolling approximately 640 students across Vancouver. Many of these students have social and emotional needs that the regular mainstream system can’t cater to. VSB Alternative Education programs provide unique programming and support services to help students achieve their potential. Some programs provide cultural education and support vulnerable Aboriginal learners. Others provide a smaller and more intimate learning environment to help students with significant academic potential, but who are struggling with social, emotional, behavioural or mental health barriers.

For those who are interested in working as volunteers and mentors with marginalized youth in the Greater Vancouver area, what are the ways that someone can become involved?
STAND is always looking for community-minded, dynamic people to join our team. We want to increase our sponsorship base, and we’re hoping that new businesses and sectors will see the value of investing in youth and education, and will support our cause. Any assistance with marketing, social media, and other tools to help raise awareness about our efforts are welcome. For those interested in mentoring youth, we can put them in touch with the appropriate schools. Another option is to browse the program list on the Vancouver School Board’s website, and then contact the specific program of interest. Teachers are also always looking for donations to support extracurricular activities and outings for their students.

You’ve traveled the world extensively. What are your top picks for roadtrips from Vancouver?
I love driving to Osoyoos and using it as a base to explore the South Okanagan wine region. In addition to making excellent wine, Burrowing Owl offers beautiful rooms overlooking the vineyard with a great restaurant, The Sonora Room, which offers an array of cheese, local organic produce, artisan breads and one of the best homemade breakfasts I have ever had. It’s also very close to some of my favorite wineries, such as Le Vieux Pin, La Stella, Road 13 and Moon Curser.

Another favorite road trip of mine is driving down to King County in Washington State, and biking along the Sammamish River Trail. This beautiful trail nestled in nature is not only the ideal spot for an invigorating bike ride, but it also goes through the wineries and breweries of Woodinville. Wine tasting at Chateau Ste. Michelle followed by a meal at Barking Frog restaurant at Willows Lodge are perfect rewards after a day of exercise.

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