Date: May 1, 2024

Meet Keith Hoare, a WorldStrides Canada Program Leader and the mastermind behind Thistletown High School’s international trips. As head of the school’s culinary department, Keith helps students learn about hospitality management, culinary arts, and culture through cooking. In 2011, he initiated fundraising opportunities with the school’s 10th grade students to be able to take them abroad on their own enriching educational adventures. He was inspired while working as a private chef on a prior school trip to Turks & Caicos, where he experienced firsthand the profound effects of international travel on education and personal development. He sought to make this powerful connection possible for more of his students, which sparked the need to remove costs as a barrier to travelling.

Fundraising in new and creative ways became essential in getting these trips off the ground. Read on as Keith shares inspiration, challenges, and triumphs of fundraising for these transformative experiences.

“When I started at Thistletown, I soon realized that many of the students didn’t have a lot of disposable income. I asked faculty if the school planned any trips, and the answer was that majority of our students (and their families) could not afford it, so it was not really an option. If we were going to make trips happen, we would have to fundraise approximately 75% of the cost on behalf of the students.

Students in affluent schools often have the opportunity to attend what can be life-changing and rich educational experiences through travel. I feel it is important that students from all walks of life should have that opportunity.”

Cooking up a plan to raise funds

To turn dreams of global exploration into reality, Keith embraced fundraising as the vehicle for financial support with optimism and drive. Recognizing the economic diversity among students, fundraising became crucial to ensuring that all students had the opportunity to participate. Active student involvement has become the heartbeat of these initiatives in which students cook, cater events, participate in food festivals, and even jar their own line of preserves. The allure of travelling to Italy, Spain, or France motivates students, making fundraising efforts a collective endeavour.

“Student participation in all the fundraising activities is essential. It’s a two-year process to raise the necessary funds, so students must buy-in and commit for the long haul. Students are cooking their way to whatever international destination is next on our list!”

One standout success in Thistletown’s fundraising journey was the creation of the Chef’s Harvest Party—an annual festival that showcases the culinary talents of the school and the city while raising money for student travel. Evolving from 10 guest chefs and 200 guests in 2017 to 28 guest chefs and over 450 guests at the 6th annual festival this past fall, this event has become a cornerstone in the community.

Keith has not only ignited a passion for culinary exploration but has also created a blueprint for educators to turn dreams into educational realities. These journeys are not just about visiting foreign destinations. They’re about shaping the future and instilling a lifelong love for learning, no matter what it takes to make it happen.

“Over the years, we’ve participated in many different food festivals and events, such as Mac & Cheese Fest, Toronto Delicious Food Show, Toronto Underground Market, and Toronto Garlic Fest. The logistics to make these events work and to ensure profitability was always a big challenge, but very rewarding. After 6 years on the food fest circuit, we decided to host our own Chef’s Harvest Party at the school. This has grown into an amazing food event hosting some of the best chefs in the city.”

Reaching goals with resonating impact

The influence these events have on students reaches beyond the culinary realm. Keith emphasizes the educational experience encompassing entrepreneurial skills, customer service, event planning, leadership, and team building. These skills become invaluable tools that shape students’ futures and instill confidence that no goal is too big. The spirit of personal growth that’s embedded in the philosophy behind each WorldStrides Canada trip is beautifully emphasized with these community fundraising efforts well before the program begins.

“Signing on board for one of my trips is a whole educational experience in itself; students are learning entrepreneurial skills, customer service, event planning, leadership, team building skills, and so much more. The skills they pick up working catering events and food festivals will serve them well in whatever career they end up in.”

In times when students crave challenge and growth, these educational trips have a profound, lasting impact. The experiences gained abroad foster independence, resilience, and new perspectives, which are especially crucial in a post-pandemic world.

“Now more than ever, students need to be challenged and pushed in directions that will help them gain independence. Our students lost so much throughout the pandemic and so much growth has been stunted. The whole experience has had such a big impact on the students, and everyone comes to different revelations about what is important to them and what they want to do with their lives. Their plans always include more travel!”

A trip down memory lane brings Keith to the heartwarming moments on these programs. On his groups inaugural trip to Italy, unprompted, students expressed their gratitude daily through heartfelt toasts. The realization of their dream journey was a testament to perseverance and dedication.

“During every meal on the very first trip, a different student stood up and gave a heartfelt, unprompted toast. Students decided that every day, they wanted to express how much the whole experience meant to them and that they couldn’t believe we had actually made it to Italy. It was a dream come true for them, especially since many people questioned if we could raise the required funds to get to our destination.”

Takeaways for successful fundraising

For educators who are inspired to undertake similar initiatives, Keith offers advice rooted in resilience. From car washes and garage sales to letter writing to alumni, the key is innovation and perseverance. Teachers should leverage their students personal strengths and their own networks when thinking about how to bring people together for a common goal. An important key aspect is keeping the flame of creativity alive in fundraising efforts and ensuring that student involvement, critical thinking, and team effort is at the heart of the whole process.

“I think there are lots of opportunities to create entrepreneurial projects that can help fund trips. Teachers need to tap into their strengths and take advantage of their personal networks to get the ball rolling. Before I started teaching, I had a catering business and being the Culinary Instructor at the school lends itself to lots of food-based projects. Some fundraisers were obviously more successful than others, but the key is to keep trying new ideas and getting the students involved in the work.”

Keith has not only ignited a passion for culinary exploration but has also created a blueprint for educators to turn dreams into educational realities. These journeys are not just about visiting foreign destinations. They’re about shaping the future and instilling a lifelong love for learning, no matter what it takes to make it happen.

Keith and his students continue not only cooking their way to creative fundraising for their school trips but using their culinary skills to serve their community. Read about how 100 Thistletown students came together and volunteered their time to prepare over five thousand meals for 11 food banks and shelters in the Toronto area in The Star and Toronto City News.

Start fundraising for your students

If you’re looking to leverage fundraising to help get your school trip off the ground, check out our fundraising resource booklet here. Ready to launch your fundraising event? Check out how to further maximize your promotional efforts using social media with our helpful guide here. You can also reach out to your WorldStrides Canada Tour Consultant—we have plenty of additional resources to help make your students’ dream trip a reality.

Happy fundraising!

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