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Grassroots charity offers RAYS of hope for area youth pursuing post-secondary learning

Local organization provides funding, mentorship for students from the area pursuing university, college, or trade school education

Posted Online Apr 23, 2021 7:30 PM By: Maddie Johnson

Rylie Farness is in the final stretch of exam season at the end of her second year studying social work at Nipissing University. Even with the added difficulty of online courses through COVID-19, Farness absolutely loves her program.

She credits Resources for Area Youth Success (RAYS), a charitable organization based in Creemore, for helping her get there.

The Nottawa native has always loved helping people and dreamed of pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work following her graduation from Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI). However, as a child of a single-parent home, financial concerns added to the already stressful process of applying to university. Farness said receiving a scholarship from RAYS helped to alleviate a lot of this stress.

“It made it a lot easier for me to focus on school and not worry about the financials,” said Farness. “I was super thrilled they chose me to be one of the recipients.”

Comprised of volunteers in Creemore, Stayner and the surrounding communities, RAYS provides support through funding and mentorship programs for high school students looking to continue their education.

The program is available to students who either plan to attend a Canadian, publicly-funded university or are destined for trade school, community college and/or an apprenticeship program. The program is entirely funded by donations from members in the community.

“There are a lot of people in this area who have had a lot of success in their careers and they are in a position to give generously to a charity,” said Anna Hobbs, the chair of RAYS communication committee. “And they have chosen to give to local youth.”

Founded by Tony Fry, RAYS first launched in 2008 as Ray’s Place, which provided summer jobs and resources to local youth. The program awarded its first scholarship in 2012, moving away from a summer program and evolving into what it is today.

RAYS has since awarded scholarships to 24 university students and bursaries to 45 students in community college, trade school or an apprentice program, totalling $350,000 in funding over the past nine years. The program has been supported by more than 40 donors, with approximately 30 volunteers giving their time as mentors, committee members and board members.

“Fortunately, there are so many qualified people in the area,” said Hobbs.

Scholarship recipients receive $20,000 distributed over four years of university and bursary students are offered between $1,000-2,000 over one or two years.

The program is based on financial need and is available to graduating students from Stayner Collegiate Institute, Collingwood Collegiate Institute, Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School, and Centre Dufferin District High School.

“If a student is going to graduate with debt, they qualify,” said Hobbs. “However, it’s not just based on financial need or high marks. They have to have taken a leadership role in the community as well.”

Along with financial assistance, RAYS prides itself on providing a mentorship program for its recipients as well. Every student who receives funding is also partnered with a mentor — ideally someone who is adept in a similar field or has experience with their chosen university — who is able to provide advice and support in regards to school or life.

“It’s a great resource to have,” said Farness. “Having the mentor is great because I can bounce ideas off of people other than my friends or my mom, someone who has had experience at university and/or in the industry.”

Mentors can be active or passive, it’s completely up to the recipient and their individual needs.

Farness was partnered with Barbara Lemaire, chair of the RAYS scholarship committee. Pre-COVID, Farness said she and Lemaire would email often or get together for lunch when she was home from school to chat about anything from life and school to plans for post-graduation.

“It’s a really great resource to have,” Farness added.

The goal of the program is to have successful students return to the area with their new-found knowledge and expertise, or give back to the program themselves if they are ever in a position to do so.

“We have a wonderful community. People care tremendously for our youth,” said Hobbs.

Applications for 2021 graduates are now open. The number of scholarships and bursaries available each year depends on how many donations are received.

To learn more about RAYS or to apply for funding, visit the program’s website.