Many may be cautious to visit Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. But every semester Ms. Joni Blaxland’s leadership class takes a trip to Oppenheimer Park to help out some of the individuals that may be less fortunate than others with the hope of brightening some of the residents’ days, especially during the cold months.
The Leadership class brings everyday items and food to give out to people at the park. “Twice a year, we arrange to go to the park to bring sandwiches, baked goods, warm clothing, and toiletries. We take it down and meet the people and serve the lunch,” said Blaxland. “The bread is all donated from Innos bakery in Port Coquitlam. For sandwich fillings, we use leadership money from recycling, and everything else is donated.”
Besides handing out food and clothing, the students get the chance to talk with some the individuals at the park, learning the stories of some of the people there. “When the students take time to talk to people and realize they do have a story it changes their perspective,” said Blaxland.
On this fieldtrip, students learn quite a bit about the lives of residents on the Downtown East Side and their stories, changing their perspectives of the homeless population downtown. They also have a more fun, upbeat attitude about being at the park for the day, bringing music, dancing, and having conversations with some of the people in hopes to make their day by helping them out, even in the smallest way.
The students mainly took away from this trip that not all residents on the Downtown East Side are dangerous, and that getting to interact and talk to them changes the view they have on these people and the way others may see them. “My students say it’s their favorite fieldtrip; they get a lot more out of it then they think. It changes their perspective of people down and out and fighting hard times,” said Blaxland.