by: Trevor Stokes
This is a story about Julio Corpeno. It’s a story about drive, commitment and integrity. Julio and his family came to Canada from El Salvador. They didn’t have much but they were a proud family – they believed in each other, respected each other and believed people were innately good.
Julio Corpeno is as East-Van as it comes. In no way is that being used pergoratively. He is as proud of where he’s from as anyone could be. Born, raised and still roaming Commercial Drive – Julio is a fixture in our community, be it at the Trojan Boxing Club at the Santa Barbara market or at Café Calabria.
I met Julio (Jay from now on) at the end of his grade 9 year. He was in a traditional high school and things weren’t working out. He found the framework of high school uninspiring. He started skipping classes or being so unmotivated that he let the work slide by – he was in need of a change. I remember meeting his sister. She was a really strong advocate for her little brother. She didn’t want Jay to stray too far from the safe bounds of the family.
Taking Jay in was easy. He was a very polite but reserved kid. He wasn’t a behavioural problem like so many of the other Streetfront kids, rather he was withdrawing from life. He and the family agreed to give us a shot and come September, Jay was in our class.
Jay was part of the second class I ever taught at Streetfront. He was a classmate and best friends with Matthew Martins, the boy I wrote about who was murdered at 16. Streetfront back then was just starting to come into the program I hoped it to be. That year would have us complete our 1st full marathon (Mauricio Garcia – he came back last year to run his 5th marathon with us, 16 years after his first) and the Street2Peak Project would be more than decade away. I was trying to find my way as a teacher and Jay was doing the same as a student. I don’t think I had the biggest impact on Jay. I was close to him and we were tight but nothing really profound. Jay liked the physical stuff but was really into video games, art and mountain biking. I liked the mountain biking but didn’t have a lot to offer on the other two. Jay’s year at Streetfront was pretty uneventful – not that Jay was a forgettable kid, not a chance but rather, he kept things pretty close. Jay was struggling to find his passion but you could tell once he found the drive, he’d be off. He was a strong writer with an evocative mind. He finished his grade 10 year and decided to go to Spectrum, a senior alternative program based out of Vancouver Technical.
At Spectrum, he really enjoyed a creative writing class. They were studying a play and something clicked. He started to wonder what it would be like to be the actors performing these works. He started to envision what that dangerous and frightening world would be like. He started talking to his teacher and he suggested that if he really wanted to explore this, he should transfer to Templeton Secondary and enroll in their vaunted drama program, Theatre Temp.
I’d like to think I helped Jay reach his potential but I know that’s not the truth. Jay found what he needed at Templeton. Jay found wonderful, inspiring teachers who challenged him on a daily basis. He was placed in a space where creativity and vulnerability had to coexist. At Streetfront, he was shy, reserved, head a little bowed. Once he got into the theatre, everything changed. He became a man. He acted in 4 major plays and countless smaller, ensemble bits. He did stagecraft and direction. They traveled the country, performing and receiving adulation wherever they went. The kid who sat back, a little slumped in his chair at Streetfront was now clamouring for the spotlight. A metamorphosis had taken place. He was off.
Jay had such a successful grade 12 year that he was the recipient of a Templeton Foundation scholarship (this relationship will be fostered and tended to for years) – he would have any post-secondary program paid for in full. Now the Templeton folks hoped he would continue theatre but Jay had other plans. He always loved cars (again his East Van colours shining through) and wanted to be an auto mechanic, so he enrolled in Vancouver Community College’s (VCC) Auto Mechanic Service Technician Program.
The kid I knew at Streetfront was now long gone. He was hyper-focused. He dedicated his life to auto mechanics. He was their top student with a 92% average and won a scholarship. Jay wasn’t content with this. He always liked auto painting and refinishing and now wanted to enroll in VCC’s 1-year program. He went back to the Templeton Foundation and asked if they would sponsor his second post-secondary program. They agreed without hesitation. Jay excelled in this program as well, graduating with a 91% average. He quickly got a job and started doing what he thought he always wanted. But in such Jay fashion, that mind of his started to look at this career path a little more critically. Jay started to recognize how damaging the chemicals, fumes and other products were for his health. Within a year, Jay had the foresight to recognize that no job, how much he liked it, was worth his health.
Now while all this car stuff was going on, Jay had always had a part-time job working at a restaurant on Commercial Drive. He had been working in the kitchen there since grade 11, heading out to his shifts after his VCC schooling or after his auto-painting job. He started to really appreciate the creativity and skill needed to excel in the kitchen. He left the mom and pop restaurant for a larger and more sophisticated kitchen. While there, the ever-curious Jay, received Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. This book regaled in the carnal, salacious and insanely stressful world of fine dining. Jay loved it. He made a pledge to seek out the best chefs in the city and use their kitchen’s to develop his skills.
Soon he was working at the Fish House in Stanley Park under the tutelage of renowned Chef, Karen Barnaby. Next, he moved on to Chambar and worked under Chef, Niko Schuerman. Jay suffered mightily with the stress and anxiety of working in a demanding kitchen but loved the rush and the expertise needed to create memorable dishes. Jay then moved on to Ensemble, owned and operated by one of Canada’s premier Chefs, Dale MacKay. Again, he threw himself into the maelstrom of a throbbing kitchen.
Now just like with the cars, Jay came to a precipice in terms of careers. Part of him loved the insanity of the kitchen but part of him knew the toll it was it taking on his health. To add to this, at the height of his cooking journey, he never made more than $14 an hour. Like Jay had always done, he took the time to understand where he was and where he wanted to be. He’s always been prudent in those matters. As he tells it, he was at New Brighton Park, trying to divine some sort of inspiration into what was next, when a video game from his childhood popped into his head. Video games had always been a big part of his life and as he ruminated about his future, he wondered about designing video games. Could I do that?
As Jay is wont to do, he went home and started researching. He literally spent day and night figuring out what skills he needed. He started religiously watching YouTube tutorials on 3d animation. He studied and built 3d models using an open source program called Blender. He started connecting with other like-minded artists, working collaboratively to increase his skills. While he was doing this, he was working as a plumber’s apprentice during the day, working in kitchen’s at night and then hammering back the espresso’s to keep honing his animation skills into the next morning. He sold his precious collection of mountain bikes (all 4 of them) and after 2 years had saved enough to pay for half of the tuition for the 3d animation program at the venerable Vancouver Film School. The other half of the tuition came from a familiar source. The Templeton Foundation, which had paid for his auto mechanic and then paint and auto finishing programs 10 years earlier, agreed to sponsor Jay’s latest vocational pursuit. Jay built up his 3d portfolio and submitted it for their inspection. They were very impressed and accepted Jay into the program.
The next year proved to be the most challenging, rewarding and transformational in Jay’s life. He lived at the VFS Gastown studio. He was putting in 90 to 100 hour weeks. He immersed himself in the program like no other student. The 3d animation program basically comes down to the term project – the demo reel. This is the make or break part of the course. You will be judged almost entirely on this one 30 to 60 second piece of animated art. Jay put everything he had into it. He drew from his first love of cars, from the esthetics of fine dining, from the showmanship of theatre. His demo reel would be Jay Corpeno. It would represent what he believed in. To say it’s beautiful is not enough. It is staggering. When I first watched it, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a former student. It was sublime.
Jay graduated as one of the top students in the class. His demo reel was used on the invitation to their graduation. His demo reel was on the VFS homepage as an example to prospective students of what they could accomplish. He now speaks on panels as a distinguished alum and recently came back to Streetfront to show the 2017 crop of Jay Corpeno’s what he had accomplished.
The kids couldn’t talk as he went through his presentation. Their eyes were stuck on the screen; searching for something they couldn’t find -imperfections or incongruences in the images. The images were so real they seemed imagined. When the lights came on and eventually Jay left, a student came up to me and asked if he could see Jay’s demo reel again. I played it for him and he walked right up to the screen with his eyes, mere inches from the screen. He shook his head and walked away. Recently, I’ve caught him at the computer looking at the demo reel weeks after Jay’s presentation. He told me it makes him happy to see a Streetfront kid make something so beautiful. He’s really glad Jay made it. So am I.
I’d like to introduce you to Julio Corpeno, an East Van original.
Please check out his demo reel. You need to turn up the volume. This is art. This is love. Remember, all of this is animated. All of it.
You can also check out Julio’s website at:
by: Trevor Stokes
Introducing Matthew Martins
Matt would be 28 now. He’d be at home on a Sunday, with his kids. Playing PS4 in the basement. They’d be within an arm’s reach. He’d be behind them on the couch with the two boys on the floor in front of him. They’d be playing Mario Kart. His hand would be tracing circles on their backs, tugging through their Sunday hair, gripping their shoulders as the game progressed. His turn would come up and he’d decline, giving the younger one a chance to avenge his early exit. Matt’s smiling like only he could. Life is good. It’s as it should be or should’ve been.
I met Matt in the September of his grade 9 year. He had come to Streetfront after attending the John Oliver Bridge Program. I used to go with Bill McMillan, the original counselor at Streetfront, to this program and do a slideshow, showing the prospective students what we could offer. Matt was in the audience that May. He liked what he saw, asked a lot of questions (a lot) and the family decided to give us a shot.
He came into a wonderful class, filled with personalities, characters and challenges. I still keep in contact with many of those kids (funny how they are still kids, though they’re 29 or 30 years old) and am so happy that many of them are still close friends. Matt assumed a spot right beside my teaching desk. It’s interesting how certain kids end up in that spot – sometimes it’s intentional (behaviour management; blind as a bat and no glasses; small enough so others can see the board over them; socially awkward kid who needs to be away from alpha personalities), but often it’s entirely selfish on my part – I really like the kid and want to be entertained. If you’ve done this job for as long as I have, you need to take your gifts when you can get them and putting Matt Martins within arm’s reach, was a gift, let me tell you.
That levity saved me. It helped me see what was important with these kids. It provided the clarity my teaching was lacking. I learned from Matt that if I could make the kids laugh and giggle every class, that each class was worthwhile, it had something tangible. We wouldn’t ignore the curriculum but we would enhance the experience. If you ask my students what I do well in class, I hope they’d say that I make learning fun. I hope they remember the smiles and laughs we had. If they do I did my job well, and I guess Matt did his, too.
He was directly to my teaching right. I can see his constantly moving body, arching and swaying as he got through my class. Never one to sit idle, he was pure liquid, gravitating towards the most comfortable position. As constant as his motion, one thing that moved even more was his mouth. He always had a comment. Always had a question. Always had a wisecrack. Always had something for me. He filled the gaps and silences, like no kid I ever taught. What was different with Matt though, was the nature of his comments. It was pure jackass. Always kidding, always fooling. Never mean. Never going after a weak target. Sure it got too much at times, but I couldn’t stop going back to him. We became an unwitting tag-team. If the class needed a boost or some sort of misdirection, I’d go to Matt. I’d look at him and he’d do the work. He would know what we needed and like Karl Malone, he always delivered. Once I recognized how much fun we could have in class, my decision to stay was made.
I can see Matt now, running around playing indoor soccer, trying desperately to keep his oversized jeans up. One hand running freely, the other tugging at the waist of those ill-fitting jeans. He was a good soccer player – feisty and unpredictable. I can still hear his, “Trevvvvvvvvvvvvvv. Why you gotta be that way????” when I’d let a goal slip by me. He’d be running back towards the centre of the court, looking back over his shoulder with a big smile on his face.
His grade 9 and 10 years were filled with growing friendships and good times. Jay Corpeno, Oscar Clara, Jacob Montgomery and Matt had a special bond. Each of these boys was a little bit different than the traditional Streetfront kid that normally sat before me. These boys had a softer side to them. Jay loved art and mountain biking (not a normal combo in this most East Van of alternative schools). Oscar was really tight with his family and his cultural roots. Jacob was this anti-establishment dude who questioned most anything but in a weird neo-hippie kind of way. Then there was Matt, who had a little bit of each in him. He had the ability to fit into any group and just be accepted. Always popular with the ladies, Matt knew how to put on the Martins charm.
Matt finished up his grade 10 year and moved onto Spectrum, a senior alternative program based out of Vancouver Technical. He kept in touch with his Streetfront friends but started branching out and meeting other kids. Matt came back to visit in the spring of 2005. He was filled with the same excitement and energy. He told me about his classes and the friends he had made, about the girls he had in his sights and about the rhymes he was trying to get out of his head. He was really happy. He was making it.
I never saw Matt again. He was murdered that summer, trying to get with his buddies for Canada Day celebrations. He died over a chain he was wearing. He died a brutal death over a chain. That makes no sense. It never will.
I’ve been writing these pieces on former Streetfront students and what they’ve done since they left us. It’s been really nice going through the collective memories and showing others how amazing these kids are. Matt never had a chance to show what kind of man he was going to become; what kind of partner he was going to be; what kind of employee he was going to be; what kind of Dad he was going to be. He was gone at 16. He deserved better. Everyone deserves better.
It’s a Friday and Matt has put the boys down for the night. He checks his texts and sees that Jay’s already at the Pub. He’s got a table with Oscar. Matt kisses his wife and as he leaves he puts his head back inside the door and flashes that Matt Martins smile. It’s a smile that reassures everything. It’s a smile that tells everyone, life is good. We’ll make it. She walks back towards the TV loving the man and looking forward to what will come.
I’d like to introduce everyone to Matthew Martins, an outstanding young man you most likely never got to meet but would’ve never forgot if you did. Take care, Matt.
Sandie Martins-Toner will never get her son back. She knows that. She has replaced the anger and sadness that latch onto such a tragedy with a commitment to bringing hope and positivity to this world. Matthew would be 29 this September 20th and in his honor she will go out into the community and find someone who needs help. This will be unsolicited, like last year when she walked into a grocery store, went down the aisles looking for whom she thought needed a break, found a young mother and her daughter and then surprised them at the checkout by paying for all their groceries. Her and her husband, David called this Matthew’s Random Act of Kindness. Sandie has a fundraiser going on right now and all the profits will go to this year’s Random Act of Kindness. It’s a fitting tribute to a wonderful young man.
Last week Streetfront alumni extraordinaire Jay Corpeno came and did an awesome presentation on his successful completion of schooling at the Vancouver Film School. Jay guided the students through a typical 3D game and film production process and spoke about all the well paying and interesting jobs possible in the industry. Watch out for Jay’s name because this man is going places and we are proud he is one of us!
Here’s another video highlighting Streetfront and what we can accomplish with our students. Thanks to The Tyee for their continued interest in our little school.
Once again we broke our record for the number of Streetfront/Britannia current and alumni running in the Seattle Marathon. We had 31 eager runners – many running their first full or half marathon! Jesse Costucci up until this weekend was our only female student to run a full 42.2 km distance but after this weekend we added 2 more female students to accomplish this feat. Congratulations to Sierra Sidwell and Harmony Patterson!! The entire team did fantastic in what ended up being decent running weather considering there was heavy rains falling before and after the race.
A huge thanks has to go out to the wonderful staff with the Seattle Marathon Association and an enormous and heartfelt thanks to the Vancouver Police Foundation for recently coming on board to support our marathon program. All this would not be possible without the support of so many organizations and individuals!
Every year we have more and more friends and family coming down to Seattle to support this wonderful cohort of unique youth demonstrating the B.R.I.T.annia code – Bravery, Respect, Integrity and Tenacity.
Our main tasks today in the garden was to aerate the compost, pull weeds and dead plants for composting, seeding cover crops and nitrogen fixing plants, adding leaves for winter protection and erosion control, harvesting potatoes and leeks, and planting garlic. This week we will make potato salad and potato leek soup with our bounty!
We had our first session in the garden this school year with Ian (Britannia Food Security Co-ordinator) and Matthew (Environmental Youth Alliance) who guided us through the importance of seed collection. We learnt many cool facts about seeds like the majority of our food plants require human intervention for propagation and have lost the capability of doing it naturally; the existence of heritage seed banks; how to harvest and store seeds for planting the next year to name a few.