On March 5, 2020, Calgary recorded its first presumptive case of COVID-19. Ten days later, the provincial government announced the closure of all schools across Alberta, effective immediately.

The reality of homeschooling children during a pandemic brought about many unanswered questions. The most pressing and challenging question for some being: How can my kids continue their education online without the necessary technology?

Nadine* is a registered nurse, currently working on COVID-19 planning and implementation processes. A single mom of two school-aged children, she spent her days reassuring her family they would get through this difficult time together. But she was worried.

“I have two kids, one in Grade 4 and one in Grade 11. Just like many families during this time, we have been hit with stresses we never thought we would encounter in our lifetime. I have tried my best to support my kids through the challenges of online learning, but I do only have one computer in the house, therefore the schedules and screen sharing has been very challenging. They have tried to make things work, but as you can imagine it has been very frustrating for all of us,” said Nadine.

Nadine isn’t alone. Eunice Bawah, project manager for All In for Youth, a United Way of Calgary and Area initiative focused on high school completion, says when schools closed, it immediately became apparent to teachers and school staff that a lack of technology was creating barriers to learning for many students.

“Through our close partnerships with the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District, we learned there are many youth who lack access to the technology required to continue learning online in the current environment. It was especially worrisome that some of these students are currently in their Grade 12 academic year, and the lack of technology may impact their ability to graduate,” said Bawah.

Recognizing the urgent need, United Way started reaching out to the community for financial support.

The Calgary Flames Foundation answered the call.

“These are difficult times and we wanted to make sure we are doing whatever we can to support people who need us right now.” Candice Goudie, Calgary Flames Foundation

The charitable arm of the Calgary Flames hockey club, the Foundation has been supporting initiatives that bring positive change to the lives of Southern Albertans through education, grassroots sports, health, and wellness for more than 35 years. Whether it was the flood of 2013, or the devastating fires in Fort McMurray in 2016, the Foundation has consistently supported local communities in times of need.

The COVID-19 public health crisis yielded the same reaction. The Foundation’s executive director, Candice Goudie, says facilitating immediate assistance for a variety of populations became a priority.

“These are difficult times and we wanted to make sure we are doing whatever we can to support people who need us right now. Through these relief efforts, the Calgary Flames Foundation donated $1.15 million in support of critical community needs. This includes relief funding, support of vulnerable populations, mobilizing food and food security, mental health support, and family support services,” said Goudie.

The Foundation made a sizeable donation to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, a collaboration between United Way and The City of Calgary (including the Calgary Emergency Management Agency) to support vulnerable Calgarians during this extraordinary time. A portion of the donated funds went to Indigenous-serving agencies, while the rest went to support Calgary high schoolers who lacked the technology to continue their learning journey.

“Through United Way, we found out that lack of technology is a barrier for a lot of high school students in completing their education, which is so important right now. We knew this was an immediate need that needed to be addressed,” said Goudie.

United Way quickly worked with the two school boards to identify students in need across 25 high schools in Calgary. A few weeks later, 500 students received much-needed Chromebooks to continue their online studies. The response, from parents, students, and school staff has been overwhelming.

Teresa Martin, education director of Area 2 with the Calgary Board of Education, says the Chromebooks have been life-changing for their students, many of whom face significant barriers because they lack the necessary technology to take part in online learning.

“It hasn’t just made a difference in how the student is able to engage in their learning, it has made a significant difference in the overall well-being of the student. As a result, this has been a noticeable benefit for the family as well. These Chromebook donations will have a lasting impact for these students and their families,” said Martin, who is grateful to the Calgary Flames Foundation for their generosity and kindness.

“Calgary youth have been provided with an important tool that will assist them with their studies now and in the years to come. Thank you.”

“We are grateful to the Calgary Flames Foundation for their support during this time and for contributing positively to the education of our students.” Andrea Holowka, Calgary Catholic School District

Jennifer Gorkoff, principal at Jack James High School, shared a heart-warming story about Adam*, a hard-working student who was taking additional math courses, including after-school tutoring classes, to help with his application to SAIT. After schools closed, Adam desperately needed a computer to continue his math course, but he refused to take a school laptop because he “didn’t want to take it away from another student in need.”

So, when his principal informed him a few weeks later that he would be getting his own Chromebook to help with his studies, he was shocked and ecstatic.

“This is one of the kindest things anybody has ever done for me! I am pretty bad at thank-yous but I hope my gratitude shows because I am really thankful for the Chromebook,” he said.

Andrea Holowka, superintendent of instructional services with the Calgary Catholic School District, says the school district is grateful for the donation of the brand new Chromebooks that are going to some of their students in need.

“This generous gift will serve our students well in their current learning at home endeavours, and for those who will be graduating in the near future, as they move on into the next phases of their lives. We are grateful to the Calgary Flames Foundation for their support during this time and for contributing positively to the education of our students,” said Holowka.

As for Nadine and her son, the gift has left them both speechless. Self-described “die hard Calgary Flames fans,” they were blown away when they found out their favourite team is making this difficult time in their lives just a little bit easier.

“When I received the news about this gift I was truly speechless,” said Nadine. “Thanks to the generosity of the Calgary Flames Foundation, my son will have the freedom to grow in his academic endeavor during this unprecedented time. This is a gift I would not have been able to provide him due to the financial constraints of being a single mother. I am eternally grateful and honoured to have been given this special gift. Go Flames Go!”

Collage of students with signs that read: Thank you Calgary Flames and Untied Way for my new Chromebook!

Bishop McNally High School students.


Thanks to the Calgary Flames Foundation for their sizeable contribution to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund. To find out how you can support Calgary and area during this difficult time, visit: https://calgaryunitedway.org/covid-response-fund/

Thanks to a generous group of local philanthropists, all donations to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000. If you can, please consider donating and supporting the most vulnerable in our community: Donate now.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.