By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review
Niagara Falls teenager Wes Prankard likes to set big goals.
Two years after he raised money to build a playground in Attawapiskat, the 15-year-old A.N. Myer high school student is aiming to build at least one, if not three more playgrounds in other First Nation reserves, such as Eastmain, Que. in the coming year.
Prankard was in Attawapiskat, the remote northern Ontario First Nation Reserve of 1,549 people, from Thursday through Sunday, spending time with people he has come to know and love over the years.
“He calls them his northern family now and they call him their southern son,” said Prankard’s father, Bob.
“He wanted to start the new year reconnecting with the people there. That’s where it all started for him. He wanted a renewed vision for the coming year.
“He made a real connection there. He found out the kids there were the same as him — they just wanted to play and have fun.”
Prankard has held campouts and encouraged others to hold fundraisers to help the people of Attawapiskat and other First Nation reserves struggling with poverty and depression.
People in Attawapiskat, for example, have been living in Third World conditions with news reports having shown them living in shacks with plywood walls, plastic-covered windows and large numbers of people sharing a two-bedroom house.
Prankard said he was touched by seeing some parents in Attawapiskat crying “tears of joy” when they saw the built playground.
“Watching all this I realized a playground is a lot more than just a safe place to play. Kids in these northern communities are given a lot of responsibilities at such a young age and a playground is a place where kids can just be kids,” he said. “One of the biggest things I noticed was a playground brought hope to the community, it let them know that there are people who care for them, which gives them the strength to keep fighting for equality.”
Prankard’s mission is to get playgrounds built in every northern community that doesn’t have one.
“I plan on accomplishing that by building the playgrounds one community at a time and of course hopefully by the time I’m older I can expand Northern Starfish (an organization that raises awareness of issues in remote Aboriginal communities in northern Ontario) to a large group of people dedicated to the same cause, which would speed up the process,” he said.
The philanthropist has been asked to publicly speak to young people and adults about giving back.
“So many people went up (to Attawapiskat) and saw the same people Wes saw, met the same people Wes met (and) some said they found mismanagement, some said they found corruption — you see what you look for,” said Bob.
“But Wes has always believed the best in people. He goes by the philosophy that if you see a need you meet a need.”
Prankard said for things to change in these communities, people need to act.
“We as a society can’t wait for someone to do something, because that person is probably waiting for you,” he said. “I personally don’t have a clue about all the government stuff going on, but what I do know is best said by Dr. Seuss: ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small.’ The First Nations are Canadians too, and it’s our job to help them.”
To further his cause, Prankard plans to do another campout and hold other fundraisers in the coming months.