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The pursuit of happiness

Friday, 12.10.2012 / 11:10 AM / Features
By Derek Jory
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The pursuit of happiness

When William Escalante wakes up every Thursday morning, he literally jumps out of bed out of excitement.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever jumped out of bed, out of excitement, with a full day of math class ahead.

Escalante, a 44-year-old former construction worker from El Salvador, works as a handyman to support his wife and three children, but Thursday is his day. He spends them as one of 105 students working on their high school diploma at the Canucks Family Education Centre and on October 11th, he received support from some special guests.

As part of Canucks Sports & Entertainment’s fifth Live-2-Give Day, an annual event featuring over 120 staff members volunteering with numerous local charities, Francesco Aquilini, Canucks chairman & governor, Mike Gillis, president & general manager, Laurence Gilman, assistant GM, and Victor de Bonis, chief operating officer, spent time at the Canucks Family Education Centre.

Canucks staff members Ben Brown, Ben Yip and Stephanie Maniago joined the management team for the day, which kicked off at 10 a.m. As the crew walked into Room 110 of the Britannia Community Services Centre, they were met with warm smiles as curiosity filled the air.

The volunteers were intrigued about the students, a diverse group of 27 people ranging in age from early-30s to mid-80s, from West Africa, China, Mexico, El Salvador, Croatia, Indonesia, Guatemala and Afghanistan, and they were equally as inquisitive about the Canucks workers.

A lengthy meet-and-greet ensued and after everyone shared a little about themselves, it was time to get to work. The students split into two groups and cracked opened their math books for the day’s lesson.

Escalante, one of only two men in the class, worked through page 107 of lesson 7, Scientific Notation, in his Basic Math Skills textbook, with the help of Mike Gillis. As the pair got to know each other, Escalante explained that he is roughly a year-and-a-half from getting his high school diploma and upon receiving it, he wants to work for the Canada Border Services Agency as a patrol.

Many of the students at the Canucks Family Education Centre have similar stories of facing hardships in their home country, which forced them to flee for their protection and that of their families. The students are determined to get their high school diploma not only for their benefit, but to become role models for their children.

For Escalante, his parents were the reason he joined the program.

Arturo Escalante, William’s 83-year-old father and the other man in class, and his 77-year-old mother, Concepcion Moran, came to Canada three years ago without more than a handful of English. That has made communicating with their grandchildren extremely difficult, so much so the married couple of 55 years decided to do something about it.

“Their English, it’s coming along,” said William, beaming with pride. “It’s hard for them, I see them struggle. It’s a work in progress and my kids help them too.”

Seeing his parents try to learn a new language at an elderly age inspired William to do something about his situation. He was happy working construction, but he wanted more for himself, including the respect of his three university-bound children.

“About a year ago I talked to them and I said listen, I’m happy that you guys finished high school and you’re all going to university, but I think it’s time for me to do something for myself,” said Escalante. “We were crying at the house and all that. But they are very happy for me; my wife really supports me as well.”

Quizzed by Gillis as to what level of math he is currently at, Escalante said he was nearing a grade 10 level, but a teaching change in the class now has him bouncing around through grades, from grade 3 to grade 11.

“His method is that we have to practice everything, especially with math because it’s easy to forget,” explained Escalante.

Gillis, Aquilini, Gilman and de Bonis can all attest to being a little forgetful when it came to helping the students with math problems Thursday.

“I can calculate how long it’s been since I read a grade 10 math book,” laughed Gillis. “Let’s see, I was 14-years-old in grade 10, so that would be 39 years ago. Wow.”

Added Aquilini, “I was just thinking it’s been about 38 years since I’ve used a protractor for anything.”

On this day he used it to help students further their education as Canucks Sports & Entertainment employees took advantage of the opportunity to expand their reach in the community to earn a greater appreciation of the needs and work being done by Lower Mainland charities and the people they affect.