Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, p. 9
The Lorne Fraser Educational Fund was started in 1982 by Lorne Douglas Fraser, a man with bipolar illness. The Educational Fund is unique in BC, if not the rest of Canada. It exists for the purpose of helping people with mental illnesses achieve their goal of starting and completing post-secondary education whether at college or university and awards bursaries of $500 to $1000 towards that end.
When Lorne began his fund, he used his own money and collected donations from his neighbours in Surrey. Today, we are fortunate to have added some substantial donations, one of which is from a family member of a person with mental illness, Evelyn Holman. This, and other contributions have resulted in an overall capital amount of approximately $160,000 in the fund.
A group of dedicated volunteers has worked hard over the last three years acting as evaluators for the many applications that come in requesting money from the fund. These people have established a set of selection criteria, but nonetheless it is a difficult process to assess 75 applications. The committee members represent a variety of different backgrounds, from mental health consumer to fundraiser to Lorne Fraser himself, thereby bringing a wealth of experience to the assessment team. Currently, the committee is comprised of five people: Lorne Fraser, Al Idiens (former CMHA board member and college instructor from Prince George), Connie Orr (fundraiser for Lorne Fraser Fund), Debbie Sesula (CMHA White Rock branch president) and Else Strand of Duncan (former CMHA board president).
The deadline for applications is usually mid to late April and the recipients learn their status in June. An awards ceremony takes place in September in conjunction with CMHA BC’s annual general meeting, and framed certificates are presented. The actual money goes directly to the educational institution, which either sends us an invoice or a receipt showing that the student has paid fees up front.
Every year, in January, the evaluation committee reviews the application form to check if there are any other criteria that need to be added. The revised application and brochure are then both are put on our web site — www.cmha-bc.org — and 1,000 hard copies are printed. The materials are distributed to mental health centres, clubhouses, CMHA branches and post-secondary institutions throughout the province.
Applications are evaluated based on applicants’:
having a history of mental illness
being at least 19 years of age and a resident of BC
currently participating in some form of therapeutic support
having an identified job goal
demonstrating a need for financial assistance.
Applicants are not eligible if they are currently participating in a government-sponsored job training program.
An important event takes place, usually every October, which greatly helps to bolster the fund. Tom Price and Connie Orr — who are, among other things, dance teachers to Lorne Fraser — hold an event called the ‘Great Turkey Run’ which consists of a road rally/ scavenger hunt in Surrey, followed by a steak dinner and prize-giving ceremony. The event raises around $3,000 a year and is a great public education fundraiser. Through this connection, we have also received donations from Tom and Connie’s employer, Dominion Services Ltd.
As the Lorne Fraser Educational Fund grows through donations, so do our number of applications. The main goal of the evaluation committee now is to tighten our criteria so that the process is more efficient. It was very difficult last year for the members to make a choice among so many well-qualified and deserving candidates.
Some of the fields of interest the bursary recipients have gone into include nursing, accounting, mental health work, flower arranging, furniture refinishing and social work. Winners come from communities as diverse as Powell River, Cortes Island, Castlegar and Vancouver. The percentage of applications from people in rural areas has increased in recent years.
The Lorne Fraser Fund has become a significant entity over the years with increasing donations and applicants. The growing level of interest in it points to the need for more educational resources for people with mental illnesses.