Dare to Dream: Salut! raises $74K for Ottawa youth leaving foster care

For kids leaving the foster care system, finding their footing can be a challenge.
Alexander Driscoll, a Dare to Dream bursary recipient, at Salut!, an annual event that raises money for children, families and youth in the Ottawa area. Photo by Charlie Senack.
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For kids leaving the foster care system, finding their footing can be a challenge. It’s why the Children’s Aid Foundation of Ottawa and the Children’s Aid Society offer programs to ensure every person who goes through the system can reach their full potential. 

Last week, a record-breaking 170 people attended Salut!, an annual event that raises money for the Children’s Aid Foundation and for children, families and youth in the Ottawa area. The event had been hosted virtually for the past three years, but this year moved to the Canada Science and Technology Museum, where participants got to feel like a kid again as they participated in activities such as ice cream making, with the fruits of their labour being served before dinner. 

“It brought the feeling of connection,” said Kelly Raymond, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa. “People got to see people they haven’t seen in years. What really topped it off was the stories of the young people who got to talk about how they benefited from the various programs we offer.”

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City News radio host Sam Laprade with youth ambassador Kurt Brown at Salut!, an annual event that raises money for children, families and youth in the Ottawa area. Photo by Charlie Senack.

The night was emceed by City News radio host Sam Laprade alongside youth ambassador Kurt Brown. Each course of the formal dinner, catered by Urban Element, was paired with wines handpicked by Victor Harradine, an accredited sommelier who has been involved with Salut! for 20 years. 

This year, over $74,000 was raised, with a good portion of the funds going toward the Dare to Dream bursary project for young adults from the care system who struggle to pay their way through post-secondary or trade school. 

“Most youth who age out of the foster care system don’t have a family support network and the child welfare system isn’t supporting them anymore,” said Mairi Thomson, director of communications and resource development at the Children’s Aid Society. “They often don’t realize they can still go into post-secondary education and build a life for themselves. We give them a bursary to pursue their dreams of getting a college or university degree.”

The bursary has been in place since the mid 1990s and more than $2.5 million has been raised to date. The funding also helps young adults pay for housing, food and other living expenses while ensuring they can pursue their studies.  

Alexander Driscoll, a Dare to Dream bursary recipient, knows all too well the challenges youth can face after aging out of the system. The now 23-year-old was first placed into foster care in 2008 and remained in the child welfare system until 2017. 

“I am a survivor of sexual assault, so my entrance into care wasn’t so graceful or nice,” he said. “I was placed in a very loving and supportive foster home that loved me, respected me and treated me with dignity, like a member of their own family. That gave me the advantage that I suppose I needed to get past my barriers.”

Award-winning wine educator Victor Harradine has volunteered for Salut! every year since the event started 20 years ago. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Once he turned 17, Driscoll felt confident enough to start a new chapter alone. However, it wasn’t long before his barriers came back, causing Driscoll to spiral. 

“My struggles were mainly to do with school. Most of my peers who had not been through care were really outperforming me and I had impostor syndrome,” the Carleton University student said. “I had lost my passion for policy, for reading, for academics and performance. I was really at the end of my rope. It didn’t seem like there was any light at the end of the tunnel.”

The foundation was able to change that. Through some of his struggles, Driscoll lost access to provincial funding and owed money. He wouldn’t have been able to continue his studies unless his debts were paid. Dare to Dream provided Driscoll with the funds upfront so he could pay off what was owed and register. 

It’s a story Raymond from the Children’s Aid Society says plays out too often. Without supports in place, many youth who age out of foster care turn to unfortunate behaviours, which can lead to suicide. 

“At 18, you go from being a child in care to a young adult who is receiving care from the agency,” she said. “You get $1,800 a month to pay your bills. Rent, hydro, school, internet, schooling, books, food and so on. Where I might have been able to rely on my parents for those additional expenses, for a lot of our young people, that transition is hard without that option.” 

Dare to Dream is just one of the many programs the Children’s Aid Society offers and one of multiple programs Driscoll has benefited from. He got a job with the organization through its student works program three years ago and now works on contract as a youth development officer. 

Driscoll shared his story with Salut! attendees to inspire resiliency, confidence and passion. 

“Take any small win you can get. Take any gain in confidence. Take any successes that you had and play it up,” he said. “Make a mountain out of a molehill. Be dramatic, demand the attention that you need, and advocate for yourself. If you put it onto others, it’s not going to work.”

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