Canadian country star Shania Twain has never forgotten her difficult childhood.
Growing up in Ontario, she often went to school unfed and unwashed, and would forge sick notes to avoid telling her teachers she could not attend classes due to hunger.
At Calgary’s Catherine Nichols Gunn School on Monday, Twain launched Shania Kids Can (SKC) — a school-based charity targeting children who fall into the gap between a dysfunctional home life and social service intervention.
Children selected for the program will have access to a school clubhouse, where they will receive food, academic support and other assistance.
Twain, 49, said she had dreamed of starting a charity for children since she was a child.
“I always wished I could have had a better school and home life, and wanted to be able to give back to kids,” she said at the Calgary launch.
She hoped the program would inspire the children involved, and encourage them to enjoy their schooling.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t look forward to school ... it was a place where I was humiliated, I was often very uncomfortable to be at school — if I’d gone to school without a lunch, or why I didn’t have clean clothes.”
She struggled to concentrate due to hunger, and was unable to bathe when her home heating was turned off in winter.
Twain described her upbringing as stressful, and said she had developed her school program based on her own experiences.
“I do know what it is to be in their shoes.”
If she had the benefit of a program similar to her own, Twain believed she would have been more self-confident and may have pursued her dreams of becoming an architect or a veterinarian.
“I was very insecure in the school environment. I loved school and I loved learning, it just wasn’t really a place I felt comfortable in.”
The charity, which is supported locally by the Calgary Board of Education, and the Dilawri Foundation, already assists 300 children in Canada and the US.
Three other SKC programs are due to be launched in Toronto, Regina and Vancouver.
Schools operating in the charity’s designated areas can apply to join the organization.
If the school meets the criteria, it will receive a $100,000 first year annual budget for supplies, equipment and salaries.
The school chooses the children it believes will benefit from the program. Twain also visits the children to see how they are progressing.
Cathy Faber, superintendent of learning and innovation at CBE, said the CBE would monitor the success of the program, and consider extending the model into other schools.
Twain is due to perform on July 9 and 10 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, after her two Calgary shows sold out in minutes.