The week a group of locals decided to form a fundraising entity for Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus, the movie True Grit happened to be playing at the local theatre.
While the group’s mission did not entail hiring a marshall to track someone, the name seemed the perfect fit for the university’s acronym TRU.
“Tongue and cheek, we called ourselves TRU Grit and the name stuck,” says Brian Garland, who was the brainchild behind the idea of forming the group.
About a year ago, Garland dropped into the university soon after present director Dr. Ray Sanders arrived to take up his post.
Garland told Sanders he thought the community was fortunate to have a university, that these are difficult times, people are cutting budgets, and he feared if the university didn’t do well, it wouldn’t survive.
He offered any help he could generate in the community and said he’d recruit like-minded people to help Sanders move the university forward.
Since then he’s rallied about 20 people.
“It’s never happened before,” Garland says. “This is the kind of thing that can happen when people say yes we can. This place was here and people didn’t know we had a university, or if they did know we had a university, they didn’t know where it was.”
Garland’s enthusiasm is infectious. He glows like a kid in a candy shop when he talks about the future of TRU Williams Lake and how badly the community needs the place.
“We lived in this town since 1969, raised our children, and some of the grandchildren. It’s a place we chose to live, invested our business in, and love it. You look around the forest industry that had at one time, believe it or not,150 mills in this area, now reduced to five or three,” Garland says.
He points to the time period when Gibraltar Mine was closed because copper prices were down, jobs disappeared, and skilled workers left to work in Chile, and other places.
The agricultural industry declined with the mad cow disease, he says, adding it has become so evident that Williams Lake needs an economic base.
“We already have the university here. All it needed was to be watered and fertilized a little bit and grown,” he says, adding until Sanders arrived the campus went through 10 directors in 10 years. “That would be a good reason not to have any continuity or somebody with dreams to fulfill.”
A university, Garland suggests, generates economic activity, and being around a university town is “just really cool.” The activity is fresh, young and exuberant, and students have a positive impact on the community.
Picking Kelowna and Prince George, as examples of cities that have benefited from the presence of a university, he says if TRU Williams Lake can have that kind of impact, it would be great.
Garland would like to see the nursing program at TRU Williams Lake expand to a four-year degree program or international students studying in Williams Lake.
“I was talking to a dentist yesterday who said we should have ultrasound training here,” Garland says, adding there are so many programs that could be here.
Recalling the first month he arrived, Sanders says he’s appreciative of Garland’s efforts.
“He pulled everyone together and now we meet to see how we can work together. They’ve never had a fundraising group for the campus here so now we have that,” Sanders says.
Group member David Hall says he’s been in business for 40 years and is part of a serious group of local business people and individuals keen to see the campus succeed.
“I was blown away to hear that TRU in Kamloops is that city’s largest employer in Kamloops. That blew me away when I heard that. Their foreign student revenue is $88 million. If we could have 10 per cent of that we’d think we were in Heaven,” Hall says, adding Williams Lake has everything to offer foreign students who love coming to smaller cities.
There’s more face-to-face exposure with people, there’s no hustle and bustle like there is in large urban centres, and they can go anywhere in 10 minutes so they don’t waste their time commuting.
“The other thing we talked about here is the post-secondary university could be the third leg of the stool. We’ve got forestry and mining and we need something of an academic nature to round out Williams Lake,” Hall suggests, adding until Sanders arrived, the community didn’t really have anyone who could move the university forward.
To kick off the program, TRU Grit is holding a gala at the campus on March 31 to raise funds for scholarships and bursaries. The evening will feature a cocktail hour, local musicians, a silent and live auction, the Vancouver-based band March Hare (here recently for the hospital gala), a local magician, and meal catered by the Overlander Hotel.
Betty Turatus, TRU community co-ordinator, is one of the staff members participating with TRU Grit and will chair the gala with Hall.
“We need the community to promote us, and doing the gala will help us do that. I do Dry Grad and I really see the need for this university,” Turatus says. At present 15 per cent of students from School District 27 are attending post-secondary in Williams Lake, compared to TRU Kamloops, which has 88 to 90 per cent of students from School District 73 (Kamloops).
Sanders says the statistics prove that TRU Williams Lake needs to capture its share.