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Calgarian Quan Ly was always a good student, but his parents didn’t know how they could afford to send him to university.

Finances were tight for the Ly family, who had come to Canada as refugees from Vietnam. That’s why Ly jumped at the opportunity to enroll in the Rotary Stay-in-School (SIS) Program, which helps disadvantaged youth access higher education through mentorship and scholarships. Ly went to one of the first schools, Valley View, where the SIS program began. Founded by Rotarian Carl Smith in 1996, the SIS Program is run by the Rotary of Club of Calgary Downtown.

If he hadn’t been selected to participate in the SIS program, Ly’s life could have turned out very differently. “The environment I grew up in, the friends I hung out with, I could have easily ended up dead; I’d be hanging out with these guys and they’d be selling drugs around corner,” says Ly, 32, now an SIS program mentor, member of the Rotary Club leadership committee, and a partner at McRally LLP, a virtual accounting firm.

As part of the SIS program, Ly received a scholarship that paid for his first year of university, and was mentored by Smith from Grade 7 through high school. “He was there whenever I needed him,” Ly says.

Over the years, the Rotary Club has helped more than 245 students, with a total of 66 students who have graduated from a post-secondary institution. Currently, 108 students are enrolled in the program, says SIS Program chair, Sean Baylis.

Each year, the Rotary Club works with teachers at five Calgary elementary schools to select youth with strong potential to attend a post-secondary institution, but who may be facing economic or other barriers that could impede them from reaching that goal. The SIS program provides each student with funding for extra-curricular activities and tutoring when required. When students enroll at a post-secondary institution, the SIS program provides each with $9,000 for their education.

Coupled with the scholarship is a mentorship program, which “makes our program different than other scholarships,” Baylis says, noting that Rotary Club of Calgary South offers a similar stay-in-school program. “We work with these youth building relationship from grades 7 – 12.”

The Rotary Club is seeking to get the word out about the SIS program by partnering up with other organizations, such as the Calgary Hubs program through the United Way and City of Calgary.

If all goes well, in five years’ time Baylis would like to see more students going through the SIS program and more graduates overall: and he’d love to see the program operating in every province across Canada. What this will require, he adds, is a champion at every organization that’s interested in starting its own SIS program. And the club itself always looking for mentors – people who would like to volunteer with youth and make a long term difference.

“We encourage people to reach out to us if they want to become a mentor, or if they want to use our program as a model,” Baylis says. “We can only help so many kids here in Calgary.”

As Ly puts it:  “All of the success stories that are coming from it are pretty inspirational. It can give hope to someone who doesn’t see a way out of their situation.”

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Are these the kind of stories your organization has to share?

Find out more about the Rotary Stay-in-School Program at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel Tuesday, March 6 from 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. RSVP by Friday, March 2. Cost is $40 to attend, and includes lunch.

Rotary Stay in School Mentor Training session, Saturday March 17 from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Rotary Challenger Park. All interested potential mentors are encouraged to attend. You don’t need to be a Rotarian and there is no charge to attend.

The annual Rotary Club of Calgary Stay-in-School Golf Tournament, a fundraiser for the  SIS program, will take place June 25 at the Hamptons Golf Club. Visit or the SIS Golf Tournament Facebook page for more information.

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