Legacy of Willingdon Elementary after-school program paid forward through Campaign for Concordia
For more than 20 years, the Willingdon Elementary Extended Day Program was a special place with a special goal. The program provided safe and affordable childcare to students from Willingdon, a French immersion school with junior and senior campuses in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) neighbourhood, before and after their regular school day. Students got help with homework and were offered extracurricular courses, games and other activities.
“We had 50 people involved in running the program and we offered services to hundreds of kids,” says Stuart Thiel, BEng 03, MSc 10, PhD 21, who was the program’s board president before it shut down in 2022.
Thiel understood program’s value firsthand — his own daughter attended it. After his wife suffered a stroke, he decided to join the board. “We reached out to the Extended Day Program to take care of our daughter a little bit more during a difficult period,” Thiel recalls. “We needed support and it was wonderful because there was no red tape. There was no bureaucracy. They just told us not to worry, that they’d take care of things — and they did.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Extended Day Program came under pressure when the English Montreal School Board needed more space for its own after-school programs, says Thiel. The board of the Extended Day Program decided the time had come to close.
Having fun while learning
The board then set to work looking for a place that would carry on the legacy of Willingdon’s program and continue its mission. “We decided to use some of its funds to make a $75,000 endowment to support students in financial need who are enrolled in Concordia’s Child Studies program,” says Thiel.
The program, based out of the Department of Education, embodies the values of the Extended Day Program, he adds. “The parents who founded it wanted something that was good for their kids. They didn’t want them just to be babysat, but to have activities, the opportunity to learn and be engaged, and make that a fun part of their educational experience.
The board also felt it was important to support students from diverse backgrounds. “We definitely wanted to prioritize inclusivity with the endowment. It reflects our own values and the values of the neighbourhood where the Extended Day Program operated,” says Thiel.
“In making the donation, we wanted it to keep supporting students from diverse backgrounds no matter how that is defined in the future. People need to be better recognized in society so that we’re not wasting the resources that underrepresented people and their unique perspectives can bring.”
Coming full circle
Thiel is no stranger to Concordia. He completed his BEng in software engineering, as well as an MSc and PhD in computer science at the university, and now works as a part-time instructor at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. His father Larry ran what’s now known as Academic Information Technology Services (AITS) at the school.
“I literally grew up here,” says Thiel. “I was wandering the halls of the university when I was five. There are faculty members who tell stories of pushing me and my twin brother around in strollers at Concordia! That made me especially happy to be giving back to the university.”