Shania Kids Can, Forever and For Always

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Images Courtesy of © Shania Kids Can

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By Raye Mocioiu

Early in her childhood, Shania Twain made herself a promise: one day, she would find a way to give back to kids like her.

The international sweetheart and reigning Queen of Country Pop knows what it is like to be a child living in a dysfunctional family. Much of her childhood revolved around keeping up appearances so that no one would know that her family life was far from perfect, even if it meant going to school hungry.

Shania’s school experience was far different from that of her peers. Her classmates had cleaner clothes, hot water for bathing, and lunches packed with nutritious food. Unlike her own, their parents signed school forms on time, attended parent-teacher conferences, and reserved spots at school assemblies. Meanwhile, Shania could not get authorization signatures from her parents because they were unavailable. As an adult, she realizes that these disadvantages created insecurities that caused her to withdraw from school and social life.

“If I had a compassionate program leader in my life who listened and understood me—a person who helped me face and overcome the challenges I was dealing with daily—I think my school experience would have been vastly different,” Shania shares.

Holding true to the vow she made as a child, Shania created Shania Kids Can (SKC), a nonprofit organization supporting underprivileged children living in similar circumstances to those she faced as a child. Through one-on-one consultations, academic support, group activities, and nutritious snacks and meal programs where needed, SKC offers a safe environment where children can feel supported.

“I promised myself that one day I would help kids who are facing crises and economic hardship in their young lives, as I did. SKC programs are fulfilling that promise every single day. There are many stories of hardships that have been overcome and goals that have been realized. Most importantly, we continue to see improvement year over year in social and emotional behaviours, mental health, and academic achievement. This assures me that our programs are working.”

Vegas tree of thanks © Photo Courtesy of Shania Kids Can
School work isn’t so bad in the clubhouse © Photo Courtesy of Shania Kids Can

Even before founding SKC, Shania was a well-known and outspoken advocate for underprivileged youth. In 1996, she donated all Canadian profits from her single “God Bless the Child” to the Canadian Living Breakfast for Learning program. All U.S. profits were donated to the Feeding America food banks. Shania also provided funding closer to home to support nutrition programs at schools in Timmins, and Dwight, ON, long before breakfast programs were widely implemented. These programs were the basis for what would become SKC.

Between changing health regulations and bouncing between virtual and in-class lessons, SKC offers services that these kids need now more than ever before. The SKC Clubhouse is a safe space for these children, a place where they know they can go for help every single day. Throughout the pandemic, program leaders have been working with the kids on social and emotional learning, providing access to academic support and a sympathetic ear. The kids know they can count on a caring adult to be there for them and help them through their daily struggles.

“Sometimes it takes just one caring adult to change the direction of a young person’s life,” Shania continues.

“I don’t think there is one thing that could have changed how my peers perceived me. It was most difficult for me on pizza day or school trips. Not having the money to participate instilled exclusion and bullying. It’s difficult as a child to face that every day, having a safe space like the SKC Clubhouse gives a child who is suffering somewhere to go for help.”

For the Love of the Children

Last fall, the five-time Grammy Award winner lent her vocal talents to the narration of For Love, a film that tells the story of how Indigenous Leaders across Canada are working together to heal generations of colonial harm by revitalizing their ancient cultural traditions in order to protect and empower their most vital asset: their children.

“We really wanted to showcase not just the history of Canada with regards to a number of issues, but really also like the title, For Love, it’s really for love of the children and to really showcase the beautiful resilience of the culture and the beauty of the culture itself too,” director Matt Smiley told Us Weekly.

For Love shares the heartbreaking stories of Indigenous people across the country, detailing both the horrors of the past, including atrocities inflicted by the Canadian child welfare system, as well as how Indigenous communities are taking back jurisdictional control of their children in order to ensure that their unique and diverse cultures are preserved for generations to come.

For Love movie poster © Courtesy of Shania Kids Can

“Once we had a good cut of film and shared it with [Shania], she was very, very deeply touched,” Smiley says. “It just seemed like a perfect fit. It’s really admirable to see her use her voice to really catapult this on an international level.” Smiley continued to say that choosing Shania was part of the plan from the very beginning, as her continuous work going to bat for vulnerable children is not just admirable but has directly impacted Indigenous communities, especially in Shania’s hometown of Timmins, ON.

“While narrating this film, I thought about the immense amount of work still to be done, especially within the Indigenous communities,” says Shania. “If reconciliation is to happen, it’s about teaching and learning for adults and children alike. I am immensely proud of our new partnership with Shkoday, where we opened a Biwaase’aa program at St. Vincent’s Elementary School in Thunder Bay.”

The program kicked off in October at the St. Vincent Elementary School clubhouse, where an inspirational “brown is beautiful” wall with a mirror adorns the Biwasaa’e room, indicating and affirming that every child is beautiful inside and out, no matter what colour they are. The children learn about ‘The Seven Grandfather Teachings’—Respect, Love, Truth, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, and Humility, teachings we all should remember to live by every day.

“Like SKC, Biwaase’aa has a goal to increase the life skills of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, youth, and their families through strategies of academic improvement, emotional development, cultural awareness, and nutritional support,” Shania continues. “The Biwaase’aa staff build trust and establish a positive rapport with students, which, in turn, increases student success and achievement through mentoring and role models, literacy and numeracy support, cultural and traditional knowledge exchange, and presentations with students, parents, and caregivers. All programs are based on the teachings of the Medicine Wheel, which is designed to meet the needs in the following component areas: cultural, mental, physical, and emotional. Programs offered by SKC and Shkoday are supporting and improving the lives of all children.”

The pandemic has brought lasting changes to the SKC Clubhouses, and as they adjust to wearing masks and maintaining social distance during activities, they are also creating new traditions to mark a new beginning. In the Las Vegas SKC Clubhouse, kids wrote notes of thanks, congratulations, and support to “Ms. Shania,” and they were delivered to her for her opening night in Las Vegas at the Zappos Theater.

Residence Opening Night © Denise Truscello

A One-on-One With Shania

Shania is behind the many fundraising initiatives for SKC, but her shows and tours are the biggest revenue generators. With every show that she does, Shania ensures that $1 from each ticket is donated back to SKC. On top of that, the singer hosts sweepstakes and meet-and-greets that are exclusive to the foundation—these meet-and-greets are the only way to meet Shania!

There are just three chances left to meet Shania in Vegas—June 18, August 31, and September 10. These packages include two premium seats, a meet-and-greet and photo with Shania, signed items, and more.

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The Shania Kids Can Foundation empowers, inspires and educates via supportive programming designed for long-term success.

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