Bob Vandewater still recalls the time he took his wife out for a romantic dinner and she suddenly began to choke after taking a bite of her meal.

Luckily for them both, he?s chair of the Manitoba Council of St. John Ambulance and knew what to do.

“These are important skills because you never know when you?re going to really need them,” he said.

“Because I knew, we just went back to enjoying our dinner. It could have been different.”

Vandewater shared the story at a recent celebration for more than 50 students from three North End high schools. Students from Isaac Newton, St. John?s, and Children of the Earth schools gathered at city hall on March 25 to receive certificates recognizing their training in First Aid and CPR.

The training is part of an ongoing effort by St. John Ambulance to provide North End students with skills that are not only potentially lifesaving but also increase their employability.

The program receives financial support from the Kinsmen Club of Winnipeg and is facilitated by the Winnipeg Police Service?s school resource officers and St. John Ambulance instructors.

The results of the program have been worth the effort, organizers say.

“First Aid and CPR are really valuable skills,” said Const. Scott Wiley. “And it gives them such a sense of accomplishment.”

Wiley, together with Const. Leon DeCaire, facilitated the program alongside instructors Lori Lively, Bill Sims and Dave Shedden. He served as an unofficial master of ceremonies for the celebration, which included greetings from Winnipeg police chief Keith McCaskill.

“Police officers get the same training you?ve gotten,” he said to the students. “Now you?re all in a position to help others.”

McCaskill thanked the Kinsmen for providing the funding necessary to continue the project.

Past president Raj Phangureh said the program, which was introduced in 2005, has been tremendously successful.

“We?re very proud of everything you?re doing,” he told the students. “And we?re very proud all of you have chosen to take part in this program and get involved in our community.”

Steven Gaetz, acting national CAO of St. John Ambulance, said he?s pleased that more students are now equipped with potentially lifesaving skills.

One of those students, Bianca Abanes, said the program was a great deal of fun for her and her classmates.

“I know how to save someone if they are choking or need CPR,” she said. “I even know the difference between doing CPR on adults and on babies. With babies you have to be gentle and not use all your strength, you don?t want to break them.”

Abanes and her peers were all smiles as they accepted their certificates and laughed and joked with members of the Winnipeg Police Service who were present.