Jonah Andrews

October 12, 2020 1 comment

New to our school. A fantastic kid. Eyes filled with wonder, nerves, trying to make the best of this new place. She mentioned she’d been on a track team, before her mom had died, before she ran away, before things fell apart. She saw pictures of kids crossing finish lines, hugging each other. She said she’d like to know what that felt like. She asked if she could run with me. She heard about the Deep Cove run. Wondered if she could do it. I knew she could. We set it up for Friday. Unfortunately, Gord was away, things weren’t lining up. Nothing worse – getting a kid excited to try something big and then bailing. Couldn’t screw this up. Scrambling. I called Jonah. Asked for a favour. He said yes. Of course, he said yes. They ran 20 km that day. Total strangers. He held her water bottle. She looked wiped when she returned but had a huge smile on her face. You could tell she was proud. Jonah saw me looking at her and he smiled. Nothing said but everything known.

Jonah Andrews. He fills the space in between. Something needs to be done? He accomplishes it. A challenge offered? He takes it on. A smile needed? He offers it. The class needing a box of popsicles? He buys them.

I’ve known Jonah for 4 years. He entered grade 8 barely over five feet. He was completely unsure of himself. He didn’t trust the world for it was cruel, capricious and cold. He couldn’t discern who was an ally, or foe. He made a decision early on that required a lot of faith. I told him he needed to trust us. In our school, trust is everything. True success only comes from trust. It’s a contract that is signed with intent, action and truth. “Stick close to us. We’ll insulate you from the inevitable strife that new kids face.” He assented. From there he kept close. He modelled what the staff did. When I ran a 10, he ran beside me. When we shot hoops, he learned how. He always asked how to get better. Humility, the rarest of teen traits. We passed the soccer ball. Over and over. We hit the ball against the fence. Over and over. He studied the way I thought he needed to study. Over and over. We ran. Over and over. He got better and better. He stood taller. He spoke up. He trusted. He thrived.

He ran his first half marathon 13 days into Streetfront. I asked. He said yes. It was along the ocean in Richmond. Lots of veterans with us. He ran beside me. Constantly asking questions. Hoping the answers would make the experience easier. He didn’t need any of that. He ran the final 8 by himself. I had lapsed into some kind of stupor, literally seeing Show Bisons (trust me, that’s another story), and I barely finished the race. I told him to stay by the finish line and I’ll find him. I wobbled across. He came and helped me. 13 days into his life at Streetfront and he was already my right-hand man.

Jonah and I developed the kind of relationship you hope is possible between teacher and student. I pushed and he pushed back but he was never far from me. His desk was 5 feet away for 3 years. Every time I’d glance to my right, he’d be there. Always there. Flux and dysfunction are common conditions at our school. Life isn’t easy. It’s fucking hard. Hard to witness. Hard to live. But Jonah was a salve to all that. Bouncy, light, energetic, curious – a generous spirit that spread throughout. He struggled many times and sought counsel almost daily, but his burdens felt temporary compared to the others, not because they were insignificant but because there were things he wanted to experience and explore. Beating yourself up, worrying about family issues, struggling to understand the vagaries of human cruelty, were always there, but he fought through the fog to find the light. To find hope. To find a purpose.

Jonah listened and accepted the mantras that always seem to come out of a certain grey-haired teacher. “Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.” “Be proud that today you did something that almost nobody else COULD or WOULD. Take satisfaction in that.” “Anybody can quit. It takes no skill. Finishing – that’s where freedom and liberty lie.” “Always find a reason to finish. Never look for a reason to quit.” Stupid Facebook shit but, though it reads cheesy, I believe in it. Jonah found purchase in these phrases. He started to live based on these precepts. He started off as one of the least coordinated students’ I have ever coached or taught (we are talking 1000’s of kids) and by the end of his Grade 10 year, he was easily our best athlete. Where other kids were too cool to constantly try, thinking it so utterly devoid of street cred, Jonah flipped that entirely. He made hard work and effort the standard at Streetfront. The other kids might snicker at his relentless commitment but in the end, Jonah was at the front, cruising to the finish line, the others always blaming the ref or talking about that injured something. Trying to diminish excellence and build up mediocrity.

Jonah had goals unlike any Streetfront student I’ve taught. He decided running 1000 km in a school year (technically 8 months) was a noble goal. He ran a minimum of a 10 km every single run. Often, he would finish his 10 and then head out for another 5, sometimes another 10. He’d miss his lunch (and if you know Jonah, food is a big thing to him) but the contentment that came from following through and reaching his goals, easily outweighed his hunger. He ran every marathon and half marathon we offered (usually 2-3 fulls and 4-6 halfs) each school year. He was never too injured or too tired. He never found an excuse not to succeed. He always stayed around till the last kid crossed the finish line and cheered them on like they were family. In every marathon photo, you can find Jonah smiling, obviously proud that he’s part of something special. When he graduated from Streetfront he stood alone. His running accomplishments were unparalleled – he had run almost 3000 kms (beating the previous record held by another Streetfront superstar, Ibin Ardila). He had run every single marathon or half marathon offered (ok, he missed one). During COVID, he ran 2 fulls and half in a month’s time. He’s on our Mount Rushmore. Smiling that beautifully naïve smile that only comes from believing that the world is good.

Jonah was the perfect candidate to join our next Street2Peak Expedition. Though there was no doubt he’d be a member of the team, he never took that for granted. He attended every training hike, on time, ready to go. He carried more weight than was required and assisted any nervous kid, who had their eyes searching for a caring soul. When we got to New Zealand, Jonah’s role once again morphed towards what the group needed. Tragically, and really only in a Streetfront world, we received news minutes before we departed for New Zealand, that one of the boy’s father had passed away. Unbelievably, 24 hours later, we got another awful call. This time news came that another boy’s brother had been murdered back in Vancouver. We were reeling. I had numerous conversations with our admin and the Street2Peak Team about whether the trip should be called off, whether we should send the boys home, whether family members should fly out to support us. It was crazy. The business of tragedy takes you instantly from the micro to the macro. I couldn’t tend to the boys in the way they needed. I needed help. Jonah was right there.

Both boy’s needed companionship, fellowship. They didn’t necessarily need someone to talk to them, what they needed more was somebody there to listen. Someone just to be there. Jonah was the natural fit. He intuitively knew what to do. The boys stayed up all night chatting, laughing and bypassing the pain that was so obvious. As the trip unfolded, Jonah was a constant companion of both boys. He sat beside them on the buses. His bunk right by their’s. He helped them manage their pain. The day after we returned to Canada, I took the two boys out to breakfast at Bon’s on Broadway. Both boys, without knowing, asked if Jonah was joining us. I made a call and Jonah was there before we arrived. The meal was a means of checking in on the boys but to them it was as if I wasn’t even there. They had everything they wanted and Jonah was right in the middle. One of the boys wanted to run a half during COVID, Jonah ran alongside him.

Jonah is now in Grade 11. He’s attending an amazing outdoor education program called Take-A-Hike. He will be their Valedictorian in 2 years. 100%. He texts me about 3 times a week, I wish it was more. I miss him every day. I am a strange man when it comes to friends. I’m 51 and most of my dearest friends are Senior Citizens – people well into their late 60’s and 70’s. I’m like my mom that way, I guess, I appreciate their sensibilities. I appreciate their perspectives. I like how they believe in hard work and good times. Jonah’s not 74, he’s 16, but he’s just like them. He lifts my spirits and makes me happy to do the work that I do. He’s one of my best friends.

Introducing Jonah Andrews, a Streetfront Legend.

If you’d like to support Streetfront or students like Jonah, maybe you’ll consider donating to the SHLF. This charity raises money to insure that student’s like mine can participate and explore the world around them. We usually host a charity 5 and 10 km run but due to COVID, we are fundraising through donations or the purchase of the most amazing run shirt imaginable.

If so inclined, here’s the site:

Hope this finds you all well. Happy Thanksgiving Gobble Gobble

Wolf HB

August 30, 2019 Leave a comment

Hey Everyone. Here’s another profile of a former student of mine. I do this to highlight the beautiful kids who’ve come through the program. It’s also a means to invite you out to our annual charity 5 and 10 km run being held on October 20th at Handsworth Secondary in North Vancouver.


Introducing Wolf HB

I hate the sound of the alarm on my iPhone? It’s horrendous., nauseating. When you’re sleeping, it’s lurking there. I usually wake minutes before it’s to go off. Not many things worse. Wolf understands this better than most. Instead of partying till the sun comes up like his buddies, he has a few beers after work and trumbles home, knowing tomorrow starts at 6 am with that cursed alarm. This isn’t the rock’n roll life, rather it’s the sign of maturity and focus. The 16 year old lets the alarm go and go and go. The 26 year old, thinks about it , then gets out of bed. The alarm a reminder of the sacrifice needed to move from childhood to adulthood.

Wolf is a contrarian by nature. Never one to pass on a potential argument, he sits in wait for a throw away comment you’ve made that he can quickly dissect and gain an advantage. This didn’t ingratiate himself to many teachers – they didn’t appreciate being lured into a debate with an 11 year old, especially one ready for battle and needing to find that his thoughts and ideas have weight and matter. Wolf’s adolescent life was anything but safe and secure. He grew up in the bright lights and harsh realities of a rock’n roll marriage. His dad grew up in Toronto and was on the cusp of making it big as Platinum Blonde’s first drummer. Platinum Blonde back then was more punk than top 40 and record companies started paying attention to them. Unfortunately, as so many musical stories go, things didn’t work out as planned and as Wolf’s dad left the band, international success landed in their lap’s. His mom and Dad settled in Vancouver and Wolf was raised in a vibrant, loud and reverberating world. You didn’t get a lot of bedtime stories but boy oh boy there were stories to be told and memories that wouldn’t fade – good memories and sad ones.

Wolf struggled to find relevance and interest in school. He had the smarts but just couldn’t endure what traditional school settings offered. He had the usual run-ins with administrators, teachers and cops that most kids who end up in alt programs do but there was definitely something different about him. Most kids show up with an edge, which is really just a buffer between reality and hope. It’s a survival suit. Wolf had this edge but he wasn’t looking just to survive, he wanted to know why this world was so cruel and why people were such hypocrites? They were always yapping about the possibility and opportunity of life but never appreciating the divergent path that a confused kid might be interested in taking. Frost must’ve seen Wolf coming because if there ever was a kid who longed for the overgrown and neglected, if was him. Rap music spoke to him viscerally. It’s rage and anti-authority message finding purchase in his swirling brain. Predictable as it was to many, Wolf ended up looking for a different place to go to school.

Wolf was part of a beautiful diaspora that were being removed from an East Van high school in the mid 2000’s and found a welcome home at Streetfront. I look back at these beautiful kids and am still in disbelief how any school would not want them in their halls. All of them artists and deconstructionists, each of them challenging the chimera that a high school education can be – elusive, frustrating and lacking. Wolf found himself an outsider in his classes. He wanted to know the why; the others just wanted that clock to move faster. He wanted debate and engagement but he found textbooks and a blank page. Soon that blank page became the only thing that mattered to Wolf. He would draw and dream and slide further and further from success. He followed two friends to Streetfront, Dylan Gauthier and Nick McCracken. These boys were like Celine and Jean Genet. I instantly found students who couldn’t stomach the orthodoxy of mainstream education but would appreciate the possibilities permissible in a smaller, more flexible setting.

I can’t remember whether I’ve locked my car but I can usually tell you what shoes a student of mine used to wear. Stupid thing to remember but I remember Wolf’s Osiris skate shoes. Those vibrant NY Knicks colours. Wolf really liked football which was weird for Streetfront. I grew up playing football as much as any other sport and couldn’t believe kids in BC didn’t. They didn’t know how to throw a spiral or catch a deep ball. Wolf did and I remember throwing the football around with him on the field behind the portable wearing those Knicks kicks. I look back now and see that by playing catch, the most archetypal thing a dad does with his sons, I was being a dad for kids who had lost theirs. Maybe, if I look deeper, that’s what I’m trying to do in this job? Fill in the gaps, the losses and the disappointments by being present, by saying “yes” even when I’m a bit tired or have work to do. Regardless, Wolf liked to throw the ball around and that’s how our relationship started.

Wolf liked the looser feel that Streetfront had. He felt like he belonged. Everybody at Streetfront has a story, teachers included. We all ended up in the ratty portable through circumstance and we stayed because of fit. Wolf wasn’t the greatest student but he was super smart, paid attention and he learned. He loved the physical opportunities we gave the kids, in particular the tournaments we participated in. He appreciated the continuity and dependability of the staff. In his life, people came and went, sometimes for good. At Streetfront, they always showed up. I think that’s reassuring for kids like Wolf – walking through that door, you’re going to get corny jokes from Gord, you’re going to see people rubbing Barry’s head. You’re going to find a home with adults that have defined roles and who are willing to accept mistakes and misdeeds. The best teachers have short memories and thick skin. Wolf was one of ours. He felt valued and respected.

Wolf had a great grade 10 year, proudly passing his Science 10 provincial final with a score higher than the Britannia school average. He left us and entered into a senior alternative program where a few of his buddies were attending. He never found the next chapter of his schooling to be to his liking. He became disinterested and disillusioned and eventually left the school. He never graduated high school but he never stopped learning. I always tell kids that school isn’t going anywhere. If it’s not working, take a break but be productive if you’re not in school. Wolf did just that. Never one to feel sorry for himself, he quickly found himself a job washing dishes at a restaurant. It wasn’t glamorous but it paid a wage and it kept him busy. He lived hard in those post high school years, living on the front line of a deadly party scene that was taking the lives of more and more of his friends. Wolf and I always stayed close. We’d text back and forth – he’d espouse his rancorous opinions about carbon and it’s supposedly limited impact on greenhouse gas emissions, I’d give him recommendations on books that he would ignore, I’d absentmindedly tell him to watch Apocalypse Now 30 times and he’d remind me that it wasn’t on Netflix and he wasn’t that keen on watching an old guy film anyways. He’d stroll

into the portable and work his way to the office, always finding himself in the pictures on the walls. He always made a point of staying connected to Streetfront. The place meant a lot to him. It meant the world to us that he wanted to keep coming back.

Wolf was always industrious, even if it was for getting in trouble. His first real job was at Burgoo on Main Street. Burgoo was founded by two guys I knew from ultimate way back and they set out to make high quality comfort food. The concept worked and soon Burgoos were all over the greater Vancouver area. Wolf moved from dishwasher into the kitchen after a short while and the management noticed a hardworking kid, who knew how to work. His personality endeared him to those older staff members and after a few years, Wolf was running the Burgoo kitchen on Main Street. He was now making a real wage, managing real responsibilities and leading a team inside the kitchen. He once told me that cooking wasn’t something that came naturally. He needed to be taught and then practice those skills over and over again. He had the humility and mindset to accept this. Perseverance would win out. And it did. Within a few years he was moved to start up Burgoo’s new kitchen on Burrard Street. He saw that through and his efforts continued to get noticed. Just last year he was promoted to Culinary Training Manager for Forehand Food Groups – the parent company of Burgoo. Now he’s training a whole new crew of crooks and chefs (intended, couldn’t resist). The irony of Wolf becoming a teacher himself, is wonderful. If some of his old teachers could see him now, I’m sure they’d be proud, a bit embarrassed that they didn’t dig a little deeper to see what this kid really was about, but proud nonetheless.

I was sitting on a stoop in Split, Croatia a few days ago, having a beer with a dear friend and texting with Wolf. He asked if he should consider buying a condo? What???? A condo? The texts I usually receive are more like, “hey its Hallowe’en, do we have school tomorrow?” or “DON’T LEAVE. I’m at Commercial and Broadway. I’ll be right there.” This was fantasy. He’d packed away a sizable chunk of cash for a down payment and thought he and his lady should get on this. He thought Burnaby, I thought maybe Port Moody or Coquitlam? He quickly set me straight that his street cred couldn’t take the Burbs – Burnaby was pushing it already. Tom asked me who was making me laugh, and I took the time to explain who Wolf was. Tom would like Wolf.

A few months back, I was out for a beer with the Street2Peak crew and I invited Wolf to join us. We were yacking about things and somehow driving came up. Barry, Gord and I were trying to think of which kids we taught now had their driving licenses. Take that in. Most of you probably can’t think of friends or friends kid’s that don’t have their driver’s license and there we were struggling to think of which kids we’ve taught had actually went through this seemingly obvious rite of passage. That’s Streetfront right there. Think of what it takes to become a driver – cash, an operable car, driving lessons, the idea that having a license is a necessary thing. Streetfront kids don’t have that and as a result they don’t get to participate in life as fully as other kids. A license is freedom. It’s mobility. It’s a way to get the hell out of East Van when things are bad. Without it, you stay, metaphorically and literally.

Wolf came up with a plan that night. He was going to set up a charity to give driving lessons to kids in need. He was going to give them the chance to get out and move through this world. The next day, he informed me that he had money already to go and had a few dudes that were ready to contribute. That’s what life is all about, right there. Thinking about others. Trying to help. I’m suspicious that the down payment on the condo might be the seed money for this charity? Who knows? Regardless, it’s all Wolf.

Wolf knows his life has been tough. He’s dealt with shit that only other Streetfront kids really understand. He’s not looking for sympathy or even empathy – what he wants out of you and society as a whole, is to simply, be nice. Treat people with respect, kindness and charity. Don’t assume you know anything about someone, take the time to talk to the person to find out the real story. That story, is the key. It’s the blood, it’s the sinew of a kid. It’s their DNA. It might scare you but so do spiders. Be a grownup, do your part. Believe in the Wolves. You have no idea how much better your life will be if you do.

Introducing Wolfgang HB, a Streetfront legend.

Strachan Hartley Legacy Run October 20, 2019 Register here

Central City Foundation

February 3, 2019 Leave a comment

Central City Foundation is an amazing community partner. They have helped us build an inventory of outdoor gear that kids from East Van can use multiple times over. Having the proper gear changes everything when you’re out in nature. Knowing the gear will do its job allows for greater and deeper exploration of the wild but also for the child.

A huge thanks to the Central City Foundation for their commitment to inner-city kids. We’ll be using the gear they supplied when we embark in one month on our next Street2Peak Expedition – New Zealand 2019.


World Teachers’ Day

October 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Trevor and Jonah on Breakfast Television

Trevor was once again a guest on Global’s Breakfast Television. This time for World Teachers’ Day. Once again Trevor didn’t do it alone and was joined with our grade 9 student Jonah. Together they spoke of Streetfront, Street2Peak, marathon running and our fast approaching SHLF Run on Oct. 14th.

As Trevor states in the interview 100% of the proceeds goes to our little school in EastVan! ( to register/donate/support).

Well done to Jonah doing what many people would be terrified to do! You did awesome!! Watch the interview here…

Amanda Leo

September 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Here’s another profile of a fantastic Streetfront kid.

Introducing Amanda Leo

Streetfront kids know heartbreak. They’ve seen it. Lived it. They come to accept it as normal. Disappointment and loss are as common a thread in their lives as anything. For my own kids, they’re disappointed and sad if we don’t get sushi for supper on a Friday. They bemoan the fact that our hotel might not have a big enough swimming pool. Typical complaints from affluent kids but pretty superficial. Nobody died. Nobody went away never to come back. They didn’t have to move because a fire destroyed everything they had. They didn’t have to leave in the middle of the night to get to a shelter for abused women. Somebody didn’t have their leg amputated due to complications from diabetes. Streetfront kids have. They’ve experienced it. They’ve lived it.

Amanda Leo entered my life when she was in grade 8. I met her as a lovely, precocious kid sitting in Britannia’s office with a cast on her arm and glasses on her face. I was drawn to start a conversation and she reciprocated my interest. Soon I found out the means of the injury and how bummed she was because it was going to interfere with hockey, baseball and basketball. I knew this girl and I were going to become friends.

As the conversation progressed she told me about herself and how things were going. She was a Brit Elementary kid and had two younger brothers and a baby sister. I left that initial meeting knowing we were going to cross paths.

Amanda and I would talk every time I saw her on the hallways. She always had so much bounce to her – quick to tell me anything new – her eyes always looking for the good in the world. I knew she was struggling with her academics. Lots of issues at home took its toll. Amanda, being the oldest sibling, always took on a maternal role to her two brothers and young sister. Whether she wanted the responsibility or not, she knew she had to do her part to help keep her family together. Amanda also, like so many Streetfront kids, lost her Dad in 2006. He was everything to her and the pain she felt then has never left her.

A few months later, Amanda came up and said she was thinking about attending Streetfront. I was so excited. Regardless of whether there was room – she was joining our school. She came down and met Barry and Gord. She impressed them just as she had me.

A week later Amanda Leo joined Streetfront and my life has been better ever since.

Amanda loved sports. Ok, let me change that – she LOVED sports. Everything about it, she liked. Physically she had all the tools. Great coordination, amazing hands and that indomitable spirit that separates good athletes from great ones. Streetfront was the perfect place for her. Within days, she assumed a leadership role in our class. She instantly showed her prowess in our PE program. I’ve been running sports tournaments for all the alternative schools in Vancouver for decades. Kids that are in alternative programs instantly know that they are on a different path than kids that go to “main” schools as we call them. Initially they feel like they had to accept a demotion due to the circumstances that brought them to us. Their pride takes a shot and their self-esteem has definitely been challenged. My job is to change that and have them understand that joining an alternative school may have been the most fortunate event to happen in their lives. That demotion in fact was a promotion to something extraordinary.

Participating in tournaments is a part of that. When a tournament is held a 100 kids come together – every kid having a story attached to them – but when the whistle blows, they are just athletes, kids with a collective purpose. Their initial reticence is replaced by a fierce commitment to their team. Kid’s who would never move a muscle in a regular main school PE class are barking at me to get them in the game because they can’t stand sitting on the sidelines. We get so much buy in from the kids that for every tournament we have to split our 22 students into 2 teams (automatically reducing our talent pool by 50%). Most programs struggle to get one team. We have two teams with subs chomping at the bit to get into the game. To make things even more difficult, we are a junior alternative program, so we have almost equal numbers of grade 8, 9 and 10 kids (this year for example we have 6 grade 8’s; 9 grade 9’s and 7 grade 10’s but we compete in senior tournaments where the average age of our competitors is 17 or 18 years old. We don’t care. We want to play and the kids commit themselves so fully to the cause, we usually come out on top. Last year for example we won the softball, volleyball and indoor soccer tournaments. The volleyball championship was ridiculous – I mistakenly put 5 grade 8’s on a team of 10 players – it didn’t matter, they won despite being at times 5 years younger than the kids on the other side of the net. For those kids, that might have been the only tournament they have ever won, period. We will memorialize every win with a photo that will hang on our wall. Kids will come into the office 10 years after they graduated (like today) and I will always find their eyes gravitating towards their photo, hoping that I might tune in and regale with them on their victory. Their smile and pride as evident today as it was then.

Amanda Leo couldn’t wait for these tournaments. She arrived at Streetfront a few weeks into September. The first tournament of the year is always softball held at Trout Lake in early October. We practice a number of times prior to the tournament and this year the prospects were looking pretty similar – horrible skills, no knowledge of the rules of softball and a big dose of apprehension lurking over all the kids. Amanda showed up and things definitely improved. Within 2 minutes, she was better than the whole team combined. She didn’t play a position in the infield, she played the whole infield (I’m not joking) and she played most of the outfield. She batted cleanup and also pinch ran if we had any injuries. We went into that tournament with only 5 grade 10’s – I thought we were going to get clobbered but Amanda was the difference. She scooped up every grounder and threw a rocket to first every time. She caught every pop fly. She hit home run after home run, driving in almost all of our runs. Her play became infectious. Soon other kids were raising their game to levels we hadn’t seen before.

In our softball tournaments there aren’t 3 outs per inning, instead we allow 10 batters to bat each inning and tally up the runs scored. We found ourselves in the championship game. It came down to the final batter and we were up by 2 runs. They had a runner on 1st and 3rd. We had to stop the hitter from scoring. We decided to put Amanda in the outfield. Their best hitter smashed a ball to deep centre, Amanda could’ve easily made a play on it but she didn’t. Instead she allowed Jericho Cowell (a very inexperienced player) the chance to make the catch. I was yelling, “Get the ball, Amanda, make the catch!!!” She stopped her run and moved out of the way to watch Jericho, as unlikely as it seemed to be, make the game saving catch and winning us the tournament. Amanda was the MVP of the tournament – the 1st female I ever remember winning that award but I barely remember that. What I’ve never forgot, is her allowing her teammate the chance to be the hero of the game. That’s a teammate. That’s a champ.

Amanda showed the same tenacity and commitment to long distance running. Back then; it was rare for our female students to participate fully in our running program. We’d get most of them to commit to the training runs, but very few were willing to push towards the longer distances. Amanda and Toni Gladstone (who I’ve profiled previously) were different than the others. They decided to commit and fight through the pain. They started to run the Deep Cove runs (20 km) and consistently ran the 10 km training runs. They knew they were as talented as the boys and were willing, on a daily basis, to prove it. By early May they were ready and when they crossed the finish line down by Plaza of Nations, they were the first Streetfront girls to run a half marathon. They changed everything. Girls now knew it was possible to run these distances. They knew they deserved as much attention and accolades as the boys did. I look at last year’s numbers and we had 26 half marathons and 12 full marathons run by the female members of our marathon program. Amanda Leo helped create that narrative of possibility and hope.

Amanda left our program after her grade 10 year and went to a senior alternative program called Outreach. She had made such strides in her life. She became a member of our vaunted Britannia Senior Girl’s Basketball team. She was the heart of the girl’s soccer team playing goalie. She was a provincial level bowler. She became a dedicated student, understanding that sports alone weren’t going to bring her the future she wanted.

By her grade 12 year, it all came together. Her peers and teachers selected her as the Valedictorian at Vancouver’s Aboriginal Graduation. She delivered an amazing speech that touched upon the hardship she faced growing up and the dreams she had for her and her fellow graduates. I remember going up to her after her speech and thinking how proud I was to have been her teacher.



Amanda left high school ready to face new challenges. She entered into the workforce immediately and quickly impressed her bosses. She found work doing kitchen installations and millwork with a high-end shop called MJ Installations (the big name downtown high-rises, that’s where she practices her trade). She’s been there for 8 years leading her crew, as dependable and talented as she was when I taught her. Being a female in such a male-dominated industry has its challenges but as always, she proved she was as talented as anyone and never let someone tell her she couldn’t do something.

She still plays softball on all the top teams (Outlawz, Slow Pokes and Those Pitches), bowls at Grandview Lanes and works every summer at an amazing summer camp called Hooksum, which I’ve written about recently. I speak to her regularly and am so blessed to have her as a friend. I see her Facebook posts and they are usually filled with photos of her mom’s baking or her Dad’s memory. The pain she feels is real and it won’t go away but she knows she’s done well. She knows she’s in charge and she’ll see her way through the tangles that will undoubtedly come up. We are all proud of her and know that she represents everything we’ve ever believed in: toughness, perseverance and character. She’s as good as we have.

I’d like to introduce you to Amanda Leo, a Streetfront legend.

Categories: Alumni, Blog, Marathon


September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Streetfront has always tried to offer the most immersive and experiential opportunities for our students. This summer we continued this tradition by running an incredible summer school program out of the Hooksum Outdoor School in Hesquiaht Harbour, BC.

We took 18 brilliant Streetfront and Britannia students to the traditional territory of the Kiniqwastakumulth Clan of the Hesquiaht First Nation. Under the guidance of Steve and Karen Charleson and leadership of Mariah Charleson, Alex Jules and Amanda Leo (more to come from her, stay tuned) our students experienced an incredible 8 day immersion in the natural, cultural and physical components of traditional life on BC’s west coast.

The camp was beyond belief. 18 disparate kids all coming together to build an amazing collective. Leaders were born and challenges accomplished. Spectacular day hikes, amazing backpacking trips, kayak journies along the fabled BC coastline, evening beach volleyball and ultimate frisbee matches and the greatest meals a hungry student could ever ask for.

Look at the photos and see what contentment, pride and self-confidence looks like.

It was an amazing thing to witness.

We are currently in the throes of our biggest fundraising cycle. We are fundraising to take over 40 students to Seattle to run the Seattle Marathon on Sunday November 25th (the largest single gathering of high school marathoners at one race). We are also 6 months away from the 3rd installment of our Street2Peak Project. In March 2019, we will be taking 15 students to New Zealand for an amazing physical and cultural exploration. We have only been able to accomplish what we’ve done due to the incredible support of our Streetfront community. Kids that come from our community would NEVER get the chance to explore the world and their own capabilities if people didn’t believe in their efforts. I hope you see in the faces of these amazing kids the hope and beauty that I get to see everyday.

If people would like to support our program (Streetfront; Street2Peak or our marathon program) – the easiest way is to donate online at (the charity where 100% of the money goes to us) or to register for our annual charity run at!/events/strachan-hartley-legacy-run-2018.

Don’t forget that early run entrants get the coziest, comfiest, most wicked run shirt ever and a Ron Suzuki led PANCAKE BREAKFAST at the end of your run.

Wilson Whitlock

August 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Hi Everyone,

I’ve written these student profiles before in the hopes of giving people an insight into the kids I work with and the work we do at Streetfront.

Our biggest fundraiser is being held on October 14th with the Strachan Hartley Legacy Foundation’s Charity (can donate directly to them from their website:

Kids, 5 and 10 km runs. 100% of the proceeds go to Streetfront and the initiatives we run (our outdoor education based alternative program; our internationally recognized marathon program and our Street2Peak Project which is the largest field study project in Canadian history). I hope you find these pieces hopeful and positive. Seems like we could all use a bit of that in our lives.

Introducing Wilson Whitlock

Wilson Whitlock came to Streetfront half way through his grade 9 year. He was one angry 15 year old. He was attending a west side school but things were definitely moving in the wrong direction. Like so many other youth, he was spiraling into an abyss of self-harming behaviours. He would routinely smash holes in the walls of his bedroom with his fists or even his head. His relationship with his parents was melting at an alarming pace. Any risk he could he find, he’d take and then step it up a notch or three. School became a tedious and pointless exercise – the teacher’s thought he was a lost cause and Wilson worked hard to prove that maybe they were right all along. Things changed in February of 2017. Wilson walked into Streetfront and found a school that wasn’t afraid of a challenge.

One of the strongest memories I have of Wilson’s first few days at Streetfront was during our daily PE classes. Streetfront always starts the day with a PE class. 9 am in Gym C is where you’ll find us. Most kids roll into the gym, still dozey from the night before. Not Wilson, he bounded into the gym every morning with a purpose. He’d go straight to the bin of basketballs, grab one and then proceed to either kick, punch or throw the basketball as hard as he possibly could, whether it was towards the hoop, the wall or the ceiling. This was no light toss; this was violent, almost malevolent. The anger was so palpable. There was no interplay with anybody else in the gym. He seemingly had a personal score to settle and this was how he was going to settle it.

Wilson struggled initially with the physical demands of our program. We play a basketball game called bump at the start of every class. It’s a fun, interactive way to start each class but it’s competitive. Wilson’s basketball skills were pretty low and routinely he was quickly eliminated from the game. Same thing with volleyball – he couldn’t resist the impulse to punch the ball rather than safely play that ball with the appropriate technique. All of this was visible, it was public. He knew where he was physically, compared to the other kids. As a new kid in a program, you have to work through this and gain the skills necessary to compete with your peers. If you give in to the embarrassment you never pass that “newbie” stage – you never get to a position of confidence and pride. Wilson was really finding it hard to find the humility needed to improve.

Streetfront is well known for its running program. We’ve created the largest cohort of high school marathoners in the world. If anyone thought playing bump in gym class was intimidating, try lacing up your sneakers and training with kids who can knock off a 10 km in 45 minutes and have run multiple marathons. The first few weeks were brutal. Wilson would put out a valiant effort, only to be heaving for breath and walking 2 km into it. He was frustrated and thought he could never accomplish what the other kids could do so easily. Then one training run in February, a volunteer named Pierre, went out on the run and ended up running alongside Wilson. Pierre’s as nice a guy as there is and the two of them just fell into a conversation as is wont to happen when one is trying to motivate (distract) a new runner. Wilson really took to Pierre’s approach and before he knew it, they had passed the 5 km mark. Wilson dropped his tough guy veneer and allowed Pierre to help him get through this run, so much so that Pierre literally pushed him along some of the more challenging parts of our 10 km route. As he climbed the stairs to the portable, I met him and could see he had something to say. “I did it, Trevor! I ran the whole 10 km!” I knew then, we had him.

From that point on, there was a discernable shift in how Wilson operated at Streetfront. Though he still had a definable edge to him, he was far more willing to talk the staff, to the other kids to allow us a chance to get to know the kid under that edifice of anger. Once he had completed his first 10 km, he was hooked. He was not going to let himself be defeated by the distance. It was going to be brutal but he committed to run a 10 km every single time we went out. He also committed to running the Vancouver Half Marathon in early May. This was a really big step – publicly stating that you are going to run Vancouver means a lot in our school. It means you’ve stepped up and are now willing to put your name on the line. Very few, if any, have ever not fulfilled their intention. Unless you are ready to hurt and fight, you keep your mouth shut. Wilson stood up and told everyone he was going to do this. On May 6th, he completed his first half marathon. A brighter future was unfolding.

About the same time he had committed himself to long distance running, he also got himself a job at the Noodle Box in Kitsilano. He loved being in the kitchen – the pace, the activity and the stress were things that got him excited. He quickly became their most committed employee, taking on anybody’s shifts that came available. He ingratiated himself to his employers and they recognized the dedication and commitment this kid was bringing to a minimum wage job. Soon his duties were expanding and his role and function in the restaurant were becoming critical to the success of the business. He would always come and talk about how he wanted to make the kitchen more efficient, how he wanted to reduce waste and bring in a comprehensive recycling and composting program to the location. All the lessons we had taught him about “being the architect of your future”, “not putting off to tomorrow what you could do today”, “going out and doing something today that most kids can’t or won’t do” were being put in play. I would sit back and think, “if this kid cares this much about a seemingly crummy afterschool job, what else can we get this kid hooked on?”

Wilson Whitlock


Now the fun began.

Wilson returned after the summer break super committed. He showed up with almost none of the simmering anger that was ever-present the year before. He was more precocious and more excited about the prospects that awaited him. Within 5 days of returning from summer holidays, he signed up for a half marathon at Garry Point in Richmond. He constantly sought out conversations with others and became a generous ally for many marginalized kids. At the end of each class, I’d find Wilson by my chair, just wanting to talk. He had that hunger that a long-in-the-tooth teacher can sense a mile away. I started talking to him about books, music, movies, philosophy, art – all the things that he knew interested me. I decided then to give something a chance. I told him about a book that influenced me in high school – Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries. As a kid growing up in Saskatoon, this book hit me over the head with its vivid depiction of a boy fighting his desire to be an artist and his hedonistic/destructive tendencies. I told him he should read it. The next day, he showed up with the book. Within a few days the book was finished and the exploration of words and ideas had begun. He wrote me an essay about the book and it was brilliant – half autobiographical and half philosophical treatise.

He seemed to like the gritty New York stuff, so I then told him to buy Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. This book details a young boy’s witness to the birth of hip-hop in Brooklyn. I knew he’d eat it up. After he crushed that book, I decided to create his own curriculum. I called it My Own Private Education – with liberties to Gus Van Sant. I decided to teach him the books, movies, philosophy that I felt were important for a young man trying to find meaning in the world. He’d watch No Country for Old Men and Clockwork Orange. He’d read Kant and Camus. He’d study Basquiat, Rothko and Warhol. He’d dissect the libertarian tendencies of existentialist writers. He’d gobble up Kafka and his absurdity. He’d laugh at Tobias Wolf. He’d be taught by Public Enemy and Run DMC. He’d be mystified by Buddhism. It became one of the greatest years in my teaching career. I’d receive almost weekly expositions on everything beautiful and challenging in this world. His thoughts and ideas were crystalizing into this beautiful pastiche of wonder and awe.

I’d share the work with his mom and dad and they were in disbelief. The boy, who tried to destroy himself in front of them, was now writing me essays on Kant’s Categorical Imperative. He became our leader on the marathon team – finishing off his first full marathon in late November in the driving rain. He stopped doing drugs and alcohol. His peer group changed – now he was surrounding himself with other positive kids. He joined the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach Program and then signed up for private lessons on top of that. He became a youth advocate for a drug and alcohol prevention program sponsored by the Vancouver School Board called SACY and would inform parents of how the world of drugs and alcohol operate from a student’s perspective. He reclaimed his love for making art. But without a doubt, the single biggest thing he did, was repair his relationship with his beautiful parents. He was once again their son. He loved their company and they in turn loved being in his presence. The three of them would show up for a report card meeting and tears would flow and disbelief would surround us. Straight A’s. Comments like, “the top student in the class”; “shows a maturity and sophistication of thought that I have rarely seen”; “is the embodiment of what we hope a Streetfront student is”, were everywhere on the page.

He ran another marathon in May but this time he got his mom to run the half marathon with the other Streetfront kids. By this time, the Noodle Box had instituted his Noodle Box Manifesto as I called it and had totally overhauled their recycling and composting programs. He became a vegan in order to fulfill his ethical and moral wishes. He won the prestigious Neil Falkner Award at the Britannia awards night (a 14 day Outward Bound kayaking trip). He won awards at the annual Alternative Schools Art Fair. He was selected to attend an 8-day wilderness trip to Hesquiaht Harbour, two hours north of Tofino. He decided to use his pay cheques to pay for a trip, by himself, to New York. To walk the streets of Jim Carroll, Biggie, Nas and Malcolm X. He went to Broadway musicals. He followed the footsteps of his musical idols. He went to MOMA. He went to Harlem. He went where he wanted. He went because he worked hard enough to earn the money and the trust to do it alone.

Wilson will run 2 marathons and 3 or 4 half marathons with us next year, even though he will now be attending a different school for grade 11. He will be selected to be a member of our Street2Peak Team who will travel to New Zealand in March of 2019. He will return to Noodle Box and give them more effort and more commitment than any high school employee should give. He will look to help rather than take. He will overcome rather than submit. He will read books that others have told him to read. He will find beauty and recognize pain.

He will make it.

He’ll be happy.

Isn’t that how it should turn out?

Please meet Wilson Whitlock. A Streetfront OG

If anyone would like to donate to our program, you can do so at the following.!/events/strachan-hartley-legacy-run-2018

Eero Gaffney

October 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Eero Gaffney is a rare guy.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a student like him. Actually, I know I haven’t.

I first met Eero in grade 8. I coach Britannia’s cross country team and as I always do in the first week of September, I roam through the halls trying to entice anyone to join. The sign-up sheet taped to the skywalk doesn’t get a lot of traffic, what xcountry needs is face-to-face contact. I met Eero on one of those walks. I asked him if he wanted to join the xcountry team. He said yes and the next day became one of the best moments of my teaching career. I got to work with a kid like Eero Gaffney.

He showed up to every practice, on time, shoes tied, ears open and mind clear. He never balked about the rain or the distance, the workout or the method. He loved the challenge of distance running. He loved the psychology of endurance. He appreciated the pain and suffering that can only come through dedication and commitment. He accepted the losses and the setbacks. He endured not achieving what he wished for but reluctantly understood, unlike most youth, that hard work and determination will eventually win out. He trusted that we would get better, both as coach and athlete. The athlete got better, that’s for sure, and time will have to tell if the coach actually improved.


As I expected, Eero qualified for the first junior xcountry championship held in Cloverdale, BC. He literally swam through the course (the course had sections over his knees in rain water) and placed in the top third. As a team we were just delighted to be there. He was a bit disappointed but nothing a trip to Tim Horton’s couldn’t quickly erase.  But through that disappointment I could tell he was taking stock of his competition, listing the names and the schools of the Vancouver athletes who finished ahead of him. In typical Eero fashion, he was mapping out his next moves.

His grade 9 and 10 years were more of the same delightful student.  Though far junior to all the other athletes, he quickly became our de-facto captain, always modeling the resilience and strength needed to succeed in such a grueling sport.  Travelling with Eero to the provincial xcountry championships in each of those years made me appreciate the kid even more. He was always on time. Always so appreciative of the opportunity to participate and represent our school. Always spilling his guts to make us proud.

It was around this time that I asked Eero if he wanted to join the Streetfront marathon team. I had been working closely with so many Britannia athletes through xcountry, track and field, ultimate and basketball that I always hoped some of those non-alternative school kids would want to challenge themselves by committing to train for marathons. These very students had grown up with the Streetfront kids, went to the same elementary schools, probably were even friends at one time but as often happens, time moves on, so do kids and their lives.  I wanted to reunite these students and have both groups benefit from the interaction.

Eero ran his first half marathon in Vancouver in June 2015. He was 15 years old and didn’t really know what he getting into. He ran with his buddy Llewyn and giggled his way through a sub 2-hour time.  Next came Seattle in late November of that year and he opted for the full marathon. Again, not knowing what to expect, he went out cautiously and finished around 4 hours. This was the moment that Eero made a profound commitment to himself, our xcountry team and our marathon program. He asked what other kind of training he could do to supplement our xcountry program. He joined an elite group of high school runners out at UBC. Started running prescribed workouts on our off days. Started hitting the gym. He was determined to achieve something special.

His next marathon was Vancouver in June 2016. He went out with a different group of Streetfront marathoners and finished around 3:40. Then came Seattle the following November and he broke 3:20. For those who are not marathoners – shaving off 20 minutes in just 5 months is an amazing feat.  All of this led to the 2017 Vancouver Marathon, where on May 7th, Eero Gaffney became the 1st Streetfront marathoner to break 3 hours and in doing so qualified for the Boston Marathon – the most prestigious marathon in the world. He ran it in 2:59 – shaving off another 20 minutes in 5 months of training.

Since I started training kids to run marathons in 1999, I’ve always dreamed of seeing a kid of mine qualify for Boston. I knew someone would have it in them. Many of got close but none were fortunate enough to get to Massachusetts.  Eero became that kid. He proved to me that hard work, dedication and commitment aren’t just trite phrases I rattle off in the hopes that a kid will finish their routine 10 km training run – they are the foundation of something important.

We will fly off this upcoming April 13th, with Eero, his mom’s, a few other family members to Boston to watch a Britannia student and a Streetfront alum race with other champions. He will belong with this esteemed group. He has earned his right to be there.

Eero and all the other Streetfront marathoners would never have the opportunity to achieve such goals if it weren’t for the incredible support we’ve received from the SHLF over the past decade. They have single-handedly allowed us to become the world’s leading high school marathon team. They have allowed us to create the largest field study project in Canadian history (the Street2Peak Project), which Eero participated in. SHLF has changed how we view alternative school kids; their funding allows us to change the narrative of so many troubled youth, turning their tragedies into triumphs.

Eero Gaffney represents all that is fantastic in this world. He will make a profound impact on everything that he touches. SHLF allowed him that place in the sun.

Thanks to Eero Gaffney for making me so proud and to the SHLF for allowing us to do the work that we do.

Trevor Stokes

Global News Streetfront Story

Here is another media profile on our Streetfront marathon running program.

Global story

Categories: Blog, Media, Running, Uncategorized

Thank you Helen

Today we said goodbye to the most awesome practicum student we’ve had. She has been supporting the staff and students alike for months. She’s a true professional coupled with a humongous dose of caring and fun. If we were able to have a fourth staff Helen would be it!

Helen is in the neighbourhood so we know she will not be gone completely but we will miss her greatly. Some employer should scoop her up now if you want a great team member.

Thanks for everything Helen!!


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