More than a backpack

Words: Connie Smart 

Ella wants her young daughter, Justine, to know there’s a community that cares about her.

On a hot sunny July day in Calgary’s Marlborough neighbourhood, ATB Financial volunteers presented Justine with a brand new backpack full of school supplies. She’s one of about 300 children receiving backpacks from the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) at their annual community event. 

“It’s about connecting, not just to our culture but to organizations and people in the community that are providing support and doing good things,” says Ella, adding it’s important to her that 
Justine experiences aboriginal culture and how powerful it can be when a community comes together to help set young people up for a bright future. 

The backpack event brings together neighbourhood community organizations, volunteers from supporting companies like ATB, and this year even a Disney “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast and a Spiderman to put smiles on the kids’ faces. 

“I want them to know that this is all for them,” says Casey, another mom who came with her three kids, who were 10 years and under. “I want them to know that people want them to succeed. School supplies are expensive and things like this help.” 

For ATB Branch Manager Leesa Harvie from Calgary’s sixth avenue branch, who was volunteering to hand out backpacks for the third year in a row, the unbridled energy and enthusiasm of the kids is heartwarming. “So many little kids will run up and want to jump the table to get to the backpacks. Seeing them be so excited to get a backpack, excited about their education, is really wonderful,” she says. 

In addition to the backpacks, the event includes booths with information from community, health, and culture organizations, as well as some lighthearted fun that lets kids just be kids–like face painting, music, a bouncy castle, and snowcones. 

Because, as USAY executive director LeeAnne Ireland says, it’s not just about handing out backpacks. 

"It's more than just one day, more than just a backpack. It's the community coming together and saluting –really celebrating– school success and sharing a lot of smiles while doing it," says LeeAnne.

For Ella, it makes her feel good for both herself and Justine to see such a positive coming together in her community. “Meeting new people, learning about organizations I didn’t know existed, finding out about fun things for the’s just really great.”   

August 2nd, 2017

USAY's backpack program sets kids up for success. 

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