Tutoring program brings Hope to all corners of city

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

It may be hard to believe 10-year-old Alex ever had confidence issues. Wiggling and dancing in his seat, the freckle-faced, ginger-haired boy wears a constant smile that pushes his cheekbones into his glasses.

But four years ago, Alex struggled in school. When the teacher called on him he wouldn’t know what to say. He thought, “Why is school so hard?”

His mom sought help at tutoring agencies, but found they were too expensive, costing about $80 an hour. She went to Alex’s vice-principal for help who pointed them to Hope for Relief.

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The non-profit organization provides free tutoring for underprivileged youth. Students at Western volunteer to tutor kids one-on-one on campus. They also hold group tutoring sessions of two to five kids at three schools in London. Their goal is to reach out into the community and give children confidence in their education.

Confidence is exactly what Alex gained, his mom said. Since he started the program, his grades have improved and he’s more interested in what he’s learning.

“The one-on-one was really helpful because he’s very easily distracted – especially in the classroom,” she said.

Richard Besney, a third-year Western student, and one of three co-directors for Hope for Relief, said he’s seen this change too as a tutor.

“I think once you spark the interest, they’re inclined to work harder,” Besney said. “And if you just work with them to show them that they are capable, that confidence is the biggest thing.”

The organization started in 2003 when several Western students wanted to find a way to be involved off-campus. Their first mission was to tutor African immigrants who came to London with no support system, Besney said. But Hope for Relief quickly expanded when they saw a need in the greater London community. The organization tutored students who had cultural, language or financial barriers affecting their education.

Today, Hope for Relief provides off-campus tutoring to Westmount Public School, Sir Arthur Carty Catholic School and St. Sebastian Catholic School.

Along with more students, Hope for Relief has also seen a growth in its funds. The organization raises money through fundraisers, events and online donations. The organization also provides gas money, bus tickets and free tutoring to the children and their parents with the donations they receive. They’ve donated $500 to Westmount Public School’s library, and gave their 50 on-campus students basic school supplies before Christmas break. Supplies were donated for the first time last year, and the result was incredible, said co-director Devin Abrahami.

“A lot of students would come to their tutoring time with nothing, sometimes not even a textbook,” Abrahami said. “For a lot of the parents, they had never in their lives had someone just give their child something so useful out of the good of their heart.”

Hope for Relief co-directors want to bring this enthusiasm beyond the borders of London. They aim to start in another university town and ask students to help kids in their community, Besney said. There’s no reason not to help other children like Alex as long as the quality of the students’ learning experience is maintained, he said.

Alex loves school now. In fact, he says it’s fun. His tutor, Jaime Barron, has helped him reach this point with the one-on-one tutoring helping him pay attention whenever he starts drifting away. Every week, she and Alex would go over the same multiplication trick, and finally one day he told her he knew the answer.

“That was a really nice moment, when you finally get through to them,” she said.

Alex now likes how classmates think he’s smart and call him “computer brain.” He also discovered he loves outer space, and would even ‘skip ahead’ to learn more about it. He knows all the planets in the solar system, but Neptune is his favourite.

“That’s all because of Jaime,” said Alex’s mom.

It’s easy to see Hope for Relief’s success in its growth, the funds it has raised and the improvements made to students’ grades. But perhaps the real proof is in Alex’s confidence, and when the bubbly boy asks his mom, “Can we tutor again?”