Alberta dad sends teenage boys to high school grads in style

Mike Reist feels most comfortable in a tank top and flip-flops but knows the importance of looking sharp on graduation day.

Mike Reist, father of 5, fundraises to send students into adulthood with a suit in hand

Mike Reist of Airdrie, Alta., organizes fundraising efforts such as bottle drives to buy graduation suits for boys who can't afford formal wear for their milestone event. (Lori Reist )

Mike Reist feels most comfortable in a tank top and flip-flops but knows the importance of looking sharp on graduation day.

The father of five is raising money to send his community's teenage boys to their proms in suits and limos.

"It's a pretty important event in their lives. They're getting ready to head out into the real world: university or jobs or trades," Reist told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday. 

"They can't afford it where they're from, and all they have to do is pay it forward when they can."

It's only April, and he already has enough from fundraising, bottle drives and donations to help 15 boys in Airdrie, Alta.

'Can't ask for anything more'

He got the idea when a single mother asked him if he could loan a suit to her son for prom. Instead, he reached out to Airdrie Dads, a Facebook group with about 2,900 members.

He was able to buy a new suit for the student. The student also secured a part-time job at the suit shop, and went on to join the military.

"It feels really good, makes me proud that I helped contribute to his future," Reist said.

"Makes me even prouder that he's making the ultimate pay-it-forward by serving in our military. I can't ask for anything more than that."

Big need

Helping the one student has turned into a few years of volunteering and the creation of the Adopt-a-Grad program. He had to take last year off to work in Dawson Creek, B.C., for his telecommunications job but now he's back in the city, doubling down.

With $4,800 and gift cards for suits shops, haircuts and limos in hand, he's already started meeting with high schools to identify teens who could use the help.

One school said as many as 70 students were struggling to afford the graduate dinner ticket, let alone all the other costs associated with graduating high school.

It's important to him that the students can pick out a suit in the style and colour they like, rather than wearing an ill-fitting hand-me-down.

"This is something they can actually use after graduating, like for job interviews or wedding events," he said. "More of a tangible gift that they can … use down the road."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.