How Do We Make Them Strong?

Gale Stewart

In this newsletter we recognize Jason Preece, president of our Youth Advisory Committee, Peer Specialist at Aunt Leah’s Place, and Advocate for foster children. His story and his leadership are truly inspiring. Jason demonstrates what happens when we encourage young people to be healthy and strong.

I’m reminded of a ritual I had with my grandmother (Leah) when I was very little. She would hold me and rub my back and recite the phrase “Rub her Back and Make Her Strong”. Over and over she would repeat the phrase. It was similar to a nursery rhyme, a lullaby, a grandmother’s song to her grandchild. For me it was the warm comfort and physical expression of being loved and cared for.

This tiny piece of visual, poetic wisdom, is a metaphoric backdrop to ask, ‘What will make former foster youth strong?’ and what will help support the work of caring for foster kids as they transition to adulthood?

In a parental role, Aunt Leah’s board and staff have asked this question over the years and as a result we have added important pieces to this place of care. We “Make Them Strong” through life skills training, housing subsidies, employment training, educational support, food security, and counseling. Most importantly though, we provide a community that supports these individuals through difficulties and celebrates with them during success.

To you the reader, I suggest the question expands to:
“How do we provide family support to the young adults leaving foster care? How is this support currently provided within mainstream families? How can it be replicated at Aunt Leah’s Place?”

Thank you for your continued volunteer and financial support. You provide us with the space to creatively ask questions and the means to make the young people at Aunt Leah’s Place strong.

Wishing you the best for 2016. May we collectively move toward a Brighter Future for Foster Kids.

In the spirit of Leah,

Gale Stewart
Aunt Leah’s Place
Executive Director

Youthful Leadership for Aunt Leah’s Place

Jason's Story

Jason was a reserved 18 year old with a wealth of unseen potential when he first came to Aunt Leah’s Support Link program. While still under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Aunt Leah’s provided Jason with the unique opportunity to live independently in a supported basement suite, which he said was a “welcome change.”

This suite allowed Jason to take on the challenges of living independently, within a safe, supportive environment. During this time, Jason gained a huge sense of accomplishment and confidence through the little everyday tasks of life, such as budgeting, shopping and preparing food. This experience prepared him for his next birthday, when he would “age out” of government care.

After turning 19, Jason joined The Link, Aunt Leah’s program for former youth in care. Through The Link, Jason had access to a transition worker, training programs, an emergency food cupboard and other essential resources. Most importantly, the program allowed him to maintain the friendships he had built over the past year at Aunt Leah’s. “I had made a lot of friends and it (The Link) was a sort of hub for us, so that’s mainly why I kept coming back” said Jason. Like a family, the supportive community Jason had found at Aunt Leah’s in both his peers and the workers, helped create stability and trust during his time of transition. With this stability, Jason’s confidence and sense of self continued to grow.

While in the Link, Jason overheard of a group camping trip planned by the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), a community
of Aunt Leah’s youth who advocate for their peers. “…I really wanted to go, so I joined the group and started attending meetings” said Jason. After the camping trip, Jason remained committed to the YAC and his dedication was noticed by some of its senior members who encouraged him to take on a leadership role. “I felt I needed to rise to the occasion” stated Jason and during the next meeting he was appointed as the group’s leader.

As the new leader of the YAC, Jason’s first goal was to formalize the group’s operations and get more of his peers involved. After creating and delegating roles for leadership, Jason and members of the YAC created the group’s official mandate and started the organization’s first bank account. “When we put our heads together the group can achieve quite a bit” Jason added with a smile, as he reflected on the group’s progress.

Under Jason’s leadership, the YAC has represented and advocated for foster youth by taking part in a variety of local events, including the Vancouver Pride Parade, 12th Street Music Festival (New Westminster), Aunt Leah’s Open House, and the Fostering Change Long Table Lunch.

With his knowledge of Aunt Leah’s Place, wide range of experience, and an ability to meet challenges, Jason exhibited the ideal qualities for Aunt Leah’s new Peer Specialist position. Jason helps participants access the many services that Aunt Leah’s provides. As a former program participant, he understands the challenges that youth face and he brings that lived experience to Aunt Leah’s.

Through his many roles, Jason has had the opportunity to stand for his peers and publicly advocate for youth in care. His story gives insight into the foster care experience and underscores the importance of having a community of supporters that stand with you, no matter your age. Like the majority of us, Jason has a fear of public speaking and still admits that he’s “pretty shy,” but there is a courage inside of him that far surpasses these traits. “I’d rather fight through my barriers and share my story, because many people don’t have an opportunity to share theirs.” This courage drives Jason to make the lives of his peers better and it’s this humble, selfless attitude that makes him a quality leader and strong advocate for youth across the province.

As the President of the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), a Peer Specialists for Aunt Leah’s Place, and a public advocate for youth in care, Jason is a respected member of the Aunt Leah’s community. His experience at Aunt Leah’s highlights the importance of the organization’s family model of care, which offers youth a safe and supportive place to chase opportunities and achieve a brighter future.

Pulling Together

Aunt Leah's Inspiring Canoe Journey

Last July, Aunt Leah’s Youth and Staff embarked on an amazing week long canoe journey down the mighty Fraser River. Traveling from Harrison Lake to the Semiahmoo Bridge, participants were exposed to the beauty of the Coast Salish Territories and immersed in a one of a kind outdoor experience.

The trip was organized by the Pulling Together Society, an organization whose mission is to “enhance understanding between Public Service Agencies and Aboriginal Peoples by Canoeing the traditional highway (emphasis added).” What defines the experience is the sense of community and respect that is developed during the journey. Participants paddled side-by-side with members of the RCMP, MCFD, local aboriginal societies, and other youth serving organizations.

For 7 days, all members of the journey were treated as equals. They traveled together, lodged together on local First Nations territories, ate the same food, and participated in the same activities. The trip was truly inspiring for both the youth and staff who attended.

“We will forever be connected to one another in words we cannot describe. Watching these youth work together and bond was a unique experience that I was privileged to witness.” – ALP Staff

Last summer’s experience has encouraged members of Aunt Leah’s Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to attend the journey again, only this time in a youth organized canoe. This separate canoe will give the YAC a distinct, but equal voice as they travel with other agencies and aboriginal peoples. After the journey, the group will turn their experience into a presentation, which they will use to advocate for fellow youth in foster care.

Planning for the trip started nearly eight months ago, when word spread about last year’s journey and prompted donations for the 2016 journey. A few months later the group applied for and secured additional funding from the Vancouver Foundation. The Canoe Journey has given the YAC a clear focus and united the group’s efforts. The work involved in planning this trip has challenged the group and forced them to act on key decisions and learn new skills. This experience will serve the group well into the future and it reminds us that success is a process, not an event.

The YAC may not be in the water yet, but it’s clear that the journey has already begun. We wish our YAC the best of luck, as they work together to forge relationships and raise awareness for youth in care.

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