Ottawa Community Housing Foundation Helps Level the Playing Field for Low-Income Students

Friday, September 10, 2021 — Ottawa Community Housing Foundation Helps Level the Playing Field for Low-Income Students 

Going back to school can be an exciting time, but for some, it can be a source of stress. That is why the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation for Healthy Communities aims to support students and families through a variety of initiatives.  

Pack-a-Sack Program 

Each year thousands of students in Ottawa return to school without backpacks and school supplies. This year, thanks to its Pack-a-Sack Program, the Foundation has been able to purchase $20,000 worth of back-to-school supplies with the help of Staples Canada and delivered them to the Caring and Sharing Exchange, a local charity that performs a coordination service to ensure the even distribution of school essentials to family in need.  

Challenges related to COVID-19 have increased demand for help with school supplies and the support from the Ottawa community has been overwhelming. A recent campaign with Bridgehead raised $7,780 for the Pack-a-Sack Program. In filled backpacks, that amounts to approximately 172 young people supported.  

In 2021, more than 750 requests were made for support from individuals living in Ottawa Community Housing neighbourhoods.  

Preparing for back to school can be an incredible source of stress for our tenant families. Costs quickly add up when purchasing school supplies and clothing for growing children. Through the Foundation’s Pack-a-Sack program, we strive to give families one less thing to worry about.  

Here’s what one parent had to say about receiving support for his children through the program: “It’s hard with only one income. The Pack a Sack program is a big help and allows my child to return to school happy and confident.” 

Inspired By Learning Bursary 

The Foundation’s Inspired by Learning Bursary provides financial assistance for individuals living in OCH communities, undertaking post-secondary studies.  

In 2021, the Foundation doubled the dollar amount of each bursary, increasing the total amount awarded to each recipient from $500 to $1,000.  

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was evident with a record number of applications received; three times more than in 2020 Bégin said. We know that there are the direct costs of school, such as tuition and books, but there are also costs associated with education – such as transportation and childcare. We want to help fill those gaps and were thrilled to be able to offer 10 bursaries in 2021.”   

Tara Lapointe, a Director from the Foundation was impressed by the caliber of the applicants.  

 “In reviewing the Bursary applications, we see the ambition and dedication of so many young people to further their education. It is also gratifying to see how involved in their communities these young people have been – volunteering with camps, after-school programs and sports teams, for example. Such community engagement benefits everyone,” she said.  

Those living in low-income are often put at a disadvantage due to socio-economic barriers. Access to affordable education is one key way to break the cycle of poverty.  

Here’s what one applicant had to say:  

“Improving my education is very important to me because I want to prove to my son that he can do anything as long he puts his mind to it no matter the troubles that life throws at him and I also want to show young moms that they can still be successful in life even with a child or children, it will not be easy but it is not impossible”. 

Youth Futures 

The OCH Foundation is a partner in the delivery of Youth Futures, a program led by the City of Ottawa that breaks down barriers to post-secondary education and employment faced by marginalized and equity deserving youth. Each year, more than 200 youth apply to participate in the six-month bilingual program. It provides mentoring and leadership training as well as job placement opportunities for students from low-income communities – many from OCH neighbourhoods. The goal is to provide support to students to level the playing field and help them succeed in college or university.  

This year, 130 students graduated. Next year’s program could be even larger, thanks to a $150,000 commitment (spread over two years) from the RBC Foundation through their RBC Future Launch program. This investment will allow for more focused skills development, mentorship and leadership opportunities and mental well-being supports and services. Yacine, a participant of the Youth Futures program, had this to say about their experience:  

“One word to define the Youth Futures program is ‘evolution’ – through this program I evolved to become a better person and a leader.” 

The organizations key areas of focus are: education, employment and community engagement. The Foundation aims to support a vibrant and healthy community, one where everybody counts. They enhance the health and well-being of the 32,000 tenants living in OCH communities.  

To learn more, visit 

Media Contact:  

Briar Gornall
Communications and Engagement Coordinator