A Surrey school program is being recognized in a big way for making a big difference.
The Mustang Justice program at L.A. Matheson Secondary was named the winner of Mayor Linda Hepner’s inaugural civic responsibility award on Wednesday (June 20). Along with the prestige and a plaque, the program will receive $10,000 to help fund more initiatives.
“We try to empower kids to do amazing things,” said Annie Ohana, Social Justice Program and Aboriginal Department head at the school. “The funds will now give us a chance to give kids more opportunities.”
The Mayor’s Award for Fostering Civic Responsibility recognizes a group that goes above and beyond its mandate to make a positive change in both the community and to youth.
“The core purpose of Mustang Justice is to foster responsibility and a desire to change their communities for the better,” said Hepner. “A key feature of the program is its focus on social justice, social responsibility and the dedication to systemic solutions to community issues.”
“I don’t think you can be a good citizen of this city, or this country, without a sense of service and responsibility,” added Hepner. “This program does both of those things.”
Hepner said Mustang Justice put together more than 300 “Welcome to Canada” care packages for Syrian refugees that will be settling in Surrey, among many other social justice initiatives.
Ohana founded Mustang Justice six years ago and said it has now morphed into a student-led venture for kids in Grades 8 to 12.
She said they have always scrambled to find much-needed funds to help here and fit there and bolster in other places. Some of those opportunities include transportation, scholarship and teaching needs.
Ohana runs the program with Gurpreet Kaur Bains, Language Department head at L.A. Matheson. Bains said the award validates the work they’ve been doing in the community. Although it is sometimes thankless work, Bains noted the work is necessary and rewarding.
“We’ve been trying to run programs where our kids take pride in themselves, get involved in initiatives that build their self-esteem, and give them roots so they are grounded in this community.”
Bains also hopes the award inspires and motivates current and future students to pitch in and be active citizens.
Gunreet Sethi, Grade 12 student and member of Mustang Justice, said the monetary award will help out in many areas of need.
“The fundraising is a heck of a lot of work,” she said. “The award is going to help contribute to a lot of necessary things.”
Sethi said the program turned her life around, lit a fire in her heart and changed her way of viewing the world.
She said a highlight for her as a member of Mustang Justice was attending the March For Our Lives rally held in March at Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver.
“We stood in solidarity with students all around the world, but specifically with those in the U.S. who are suffering from gun violence.”
She added the program has “assisted the younger generation to become aware of where they come from and why they should be proud of who they are.”