Q&A: Shania Twain on Her Dream to Help Kids Just Like Herself
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On Shania Twain’s website for her charity foundation, Shania Kids Can (SKC), the Canadian country-pop star who rose from poverty to worldwide acclaim and fame in the mid-90s with sales of more than 75 million albums — even though her brand new album, Now, is her first in 15 years — posts a “personal note.”
Founded in 2010, she begins by explaining what most of us already know: “Many young students are less fortunate and endure daily life without the personal care that meets even the basic nutritional, emotional and hygiene needs essential for proper physical and mental health, yet in some cases goes unnoticed by others.”
Twain was one of those students, she says.
“As a child, I often went to school without having had breakfast, without a lunch, no money to take part in pizza days or many field trips for example, because I wasn't able to pay or get the authorization signature from my parents because they were not available or unable,” she begins. “Reflecting back, I realize that my disadvantages created a lack of self-confidence and insecurity, causing me to withdraw and be less social than I would liked to have been otherwise. In addition to feeling inferior, hunger caused a lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation to interact with others…
“After several days of not eating properly, I would just stay home from school to avoid the discomfort of trying to focus on class work and face another lunch period surrounded by classmates enjoying their nicely prepared meals. I would not want to ask my parents to sign a written excuse reflecting the reason for my absenteeism or, more awkwardly, ask them to lie in order to avoid a social service intervention, so I would simply write and forge the notes myself to maintain privacy for my family and keep my teacher or principal satisfied...”
Her painful recollection continues here.
She adds, “My own philosophy of coping with family issues as a child was to remind myself that childhood was only temporary and if I could get through those few years, I would be able to take control of my own destiny as an adult and break free of the dysfunction,” and says “I know that in my youth I would have benefitted from a support system at school like SKC.”
To that end Shania Kids Can offers a unique kids clubhouse program to qualifying schools across North America that includes the construction build, furnishings and hiring of qualified staff. The kids have access to nutritious food, academic help, psychological support, musical and artistic development, vocational training and more.
Samaritanmag spoke with Twain about the need for her charity, how it works, how schools apply and how the public can help.
Do schools sign up if they’re in an impoverished or disadvantaged area?
Anybody can go online and apply. It’s a very direct application online, and everything is laid out very clearly on the protocols and expectations and whatnot. A proactive energy goes to continuing the funding for the current schools. I’ll be speaking about it, and my own experiences, which is the root of this. It’s really just a dream I had from childhood to help kids like myself.
The community from schools take responsibility for running the program and my responsibility is getting out there and raising funds and sharing my own personal experience to educate people running the program. Some lucky kids out there will get to go a school that has the program that I wish I had when I was their age.
So the school doesn’t have to be in a disadvantaged area? It’s just the kids within the school might come from difficult backgrounds?
Exactly. What I learned, primarily, was most public schools — if not almost all public schools — are going to have disadvantaged kids. It’s everywhere. It’s right in our backyards, everywhere. And I don’t care if it’s one kid or five kids. It’s up to schools, if they feel that they have kids that are disadvantaged and meet the criteria, then they can apply.
It’s also about educating the people that are living in that environment everyday, the educators, the operators of the schools, to recognize that they’ve got this problem. A lot of it is just talking about it as well and awareness, and recognizing the signs because they can be quite elusive. It’s not always your obvious sign. I was under the radar a lot when I was a kid.
And you wanted to keep it to yourself that you were going to school hungry. I’m sure a lot of kids do that. They don’t want to speak up. They don’t want to get their parents in trouble or they’re embarrassed or they’re shy.
They’re embarrassed; they’re shy; they’re afraid. There’s so many reasons. All the reasons above.
I didn’t tell anybody about my situation, and I think that’s very common. It’s up to the educators to recognize the signs and that’s part of our job because a lot of kids that end up in, for example, social services, there’s intervention for different reasons. It’s either they’re not going to school or they’re coming to school abused, or something more obvious, but there’s so many more kids that fall under radar that we don’t even know about. So that’s what the program's for. It’s not a social services program, and that’s why it’s privately funded. So it’s not these kids under the radar at social services.
If a teacher is reading this interview and they have an inkling about a child that might need this type of assistance, they can go on, on behalf of the school, and fill out the application?
Exactly. Not even that. They can just go online and look for the criteria for students, and then they’ll realize whether they’re on track or not. Maybe they’re overreacting. I would always advocate if you have a suspicion at all, you might as well look it up. Go to Shania Kids Can online and look it up and read about it because the signs can be very subtle and, like me, I tried my best to hide it and I succeeded. Nobody intervened. There was no assistance there.
For the general public, simply donations, that’s what you need?
Exactly, Just go to Shaniakidscan.com and you can make a donation. My husband does a very good job of running the website. He’s very good at that. It’s something we enjoy doing and I think it’s pretty self-explanatory once you get there.
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.