Jacob Bird (right) with his big brother Harvey Erman

Jacob Bird (right) with his big brother Harvey Erman

Barriers are no deterrent for Jacob Bird

Student wins scholarship from CIBC Youthvision program

Jacob Bird, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at Edward Milne community school (EMCS), recently found out he would be receiving up to $38,000 through the CIBC Youthvision Scholarship Program. The award was presented to Jacob at the Westshore CIBC location on June 25.

What makes this award exceptionally special is that Jacob is also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and is in the Lifeskills program at EMCS. According to the school’s program guide, “Lifeskills is a holistic program for students possessing developmental and/or intellectual challenges.” Courses are tailored to the individual needs of each student. In 2013, Jacob received the Junior Lifeskills Achievement Award at the EMCS Awards Ceremony last June.

Applying for consideration for the scholarship was not an easy process. Jacob’s grandmother and legal guardian, Marilyn Smith, hit several roadblocks when she was initially informed (locally) that because Jacob was not an “B+” or an “A” average grade student, that his application would in all likelihood be rejected.

“There was extreme hesitance on all sides that this is even a possibility that could happen,” she said. “And rightfully so,” she continued, “How many Lifeskills students have you met that have won a scholarship?”

But Marilyn refused to let any barriers deter her. Jacob learns  at a different rate, and as his guardian, Marilyn could see his potential.

“Our attitude was, if you don’t try, you don’t get it.”

So Marilyn persisted and eventually found people who would support Jacob’s application. Champions who added their voice to his application included his supporters from Big Brothers Big Sisters. “We put (the application) in with a really hopeful attitude,” she said.

Jacob received a lot of support from his teachers over the years.

“Grania Bridal was his middle school teacher at Journey and Jeannie Kwan from Happy Valley elementary school was his EA that inspired his interest in cooking,” reported Marilyn.

Jacob’s interest in food preparation reaches into the community too, where he has been volunteering at the Rainbow Kitchen in Esquimalt for the past two years, a Victoria kitchen that serves meals to the poor and marginalized.

The letter of recommendation from Culinary Arts teacher, Mr. Steve Caryk, might have cinched the application, where Jacob’s skills were held in high estimation.

Marilyn gathered the information, including the references, and submitted the application without expectation. “All they can do is say no,” she said.

When the call came that Jacob will indeed receive the scholarship, Julie Lafontaine, a friend of the family who works with Jacob, was there along with Marilyn and Jacob. Marilyn recounted that their jaws dropped, though Jacob stated his did not.

According to Julie Lafontaine, Jacob is planning to use the funds for Professional Cook Training at Camosun College. Marilyn said Jacob is most happy in the kitchen and comfortable with all aspects, from prep work to cooking to cleaning up.

The scholarship is available to Grade 10 students who have been through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, a youth mentoring charity that helps kids in primarily single adult families.

As a part of the program, the youth are also given an internship with the YMCA. Jacob’s strengths would allow him to perform quite well as a custodian, said Marilyn. He prefers to be more in the background.

Rhonda Brown, executive director with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Victoria, said the scholarship integrates financial support, an internship and a continued mentoring relationship that boosts the likelihood of success in university.

“It’s hope for these kids, and it’s just an incredible opportunity. It allows them to pursue a career where otherwise they may not have been able,” Brown said.

Mentors not only play a big role in the development of Little Brothers, but they’re also fundamental in kids being chosen for scholarships, she said.

“The mentor has to write about their experience with the child and why they think their Little Brother or Sister deserves to have this opportunity to reach their goals,” Brown said. “I can’t say enough about the strength of those relationships.”

Marilyn’s final piece of advice was to never give up on a dream.

“Just because they’re in Lifeskills, don’t give up on the ideas that you have for them,” insisted Marilyn. “Believe in your kid.” Just because one door closes on you, it does not mean there are not others you can try. There are. Try them until you find the one that opens.