Since 2014, Dan’s Legacy has helped hundreds of youth meet their educational, housing and life-goals by providing their own signature therapeutic programs. In this issue we talked to Tom Littlewood (Program Director) and Barbara Coates (Executive Director) about the organization, their involvement and the Dan’s Legacy-Aunt Leah’s Place partnership.
Aunt Leah’s Place and Dan’s Legacy joined forces in 2015 and have had an extremely successful partnership providing counselling, food-security and physical fitness services. Today, Aunt Leah’s Place provides 50% of the cost of therapy to its participants while Dan’s Legacy provides the other 50% through fundraising. This dollar-matching partnership makes providing essential services affordable for all parties involved. Additionally, Dan’s Legacy and Aunt Leah’s co-host a weekly Sunday dinner program called Sunday Haven, which feeds roughly 50 youth every week and briefly covers some of the topics discussed in therapy.
Meet the Partners
Tom came to Dan’s Legacy first as a consultant, and after working with the foundation’s board for four months, became the Director of Programs and Senior Counsellor. Tom graduated from Simon Fraser University with B.A. in Psychology in 1985. Over the next six years he completed his Masters in Psychology as well as two years of specialized counselling programs in various universities in Canada and the USA. He developed one of the first diversion programs for at-risk youth while working as a police counsellor and founded the Sanctuary Foundation, which for fifteen years provided work and life skills programs, counselling and the first jobs for thousands of at-risk youth in Metro Vancouver, many of whom were Aunt Leah’s participants. During his last five years with the Sanctuary Foundation, he worked with the Cuban Ministry of Education setting up an apprenticeship program in bike mechanics for at-risk Cuban youth. Tom has also worked as a community counsellor for a local First Nation community and as a family support worker and counsellor for a local alternative high school. For the last fifteen years he has managed and volunteered at a local surplus food cooperative, and today runs a weekly Sunday Haven dinner program at Aunt Leah’s Place. Tom brings a tremendous amount of lived experience to his work, having suffered trauma as a youth and struggling with substance abuse and homelessness. He now looks for that same lived experience or level of empathy in the counsellors and employees he hires to Dan’s Legacy.
Barbara accepted the position of Executive Director at Dan’s Legacy in September, 2016, after four years with the Marketing and Communications team at Variety – The Children’s Charity of BC. Barbara has more than 30 years’ experience in broadcasting, communications and public relations, and has worked in the private, government and non-profit sectors. She is an active and long-time volunteer, serving on numerous business, sports, educational, non-profit and government committees and boards in her community of Delta. Barbara is passionate about children’s and mental health issues, and is a past Director with the Canadian Mental Health Association (Delta). She is currently an active mentor with Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) Vancouver, and Communications Chair with the Delta Federal Liberal Riding Association. Barbara holds a Diploma in Broadcast Communications and a Certificate in Marketing Management/Public Relations (Distinction) from BCIT. Barbara’s life, like many others, has been touched by mental illness and addiction, having lost a close family member to an overdose on the Downtown Eastside streets. She was drawn to Dan’s Legacy and the work it does, because of this experience and witnessing the dedication Tom brings to the organization.
Q: What should people and organizations know about Dan’s Legacy?
“Therapy to us isn’t just talk therapy. It’s food, it’s exercise, it’s community. It’s also talk therapy but it’s a combination of diet, exercise, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (CBT) counselling as well as mindfulness, so it’s really a holistic kind of package.” – Tom Littlewood
“We have over a 50% success rate in helping young people stabilize and turn things around [to] start working towards their personal goals… That’s a huge success rate! The young people we are working with, they are asking for help, so that’s big. And of course we stay in touch with the kids that have decided that they’re not ready yet, that’s another thing we do that not many others do; that personal touch and building a connection with everybody.” – Barbara Coates
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work for you?
“I am surrounded by people who make it their mission to help kids and impact the world, and that is so inspiring. It’s not selfish, it’s selfless, and their viewpoints inspire me every day.” – Barbara Coates
“Seeing these kids in that same vulnerable situation, it really hits you on a different level if you have experienced that… [But when you] give them insight into their own lives so that they can get a hold of the rudder… and steer themselves into a life that is productive and that they can enjoy, that is really really rewarding. And seeing them later in life by accident, they come by and want to show you that they done good. Like ‘look at my truck!’ or ‘I have two kids, here are their pictures!’ and you’re left going ‘wow, that’s really cool!’” – Tom Littlewood
Q: Who benefits from the Dan’s Legacy-Aunt Leah’s partnership?
Youth, support workers and the community at large. Barbara explained how the Dan’s Legacy-Aunt Leah’s partnership has a ripple effect, starting with youth and spreading to the larger community. “It’s like when you throw a rock in a pond and there’s concentric circles that spread out. Of course at the center is the youth, number one. They are getting so many supports that they need to help them stabilize and actually start taking their lives back. Then [they] start working towards independence, later becoming contributing members of society. The people who would benefit next would be the all the surrounding supports. People like all of us at Dan’s Legacy and organizations who get to work with these youth every day, because I think that all of us find inspiration in them. Then I would go on to the community at large. If we are intervening before, and helping someone take control of their life [to become] a contributing member of the community, we are stopping them from becoming a drain and the costs associated with that.”
Q: Why is the Dan’s Legacy-Aunt Leah’s Place partnership model so effective?
“The partnership model is brilliant because we support each other and we come to the partnership with our own expertise. And to take that one step further, what I love about our growing partnership is that we have been able to cross-refer our clients to our other partners. The more partnerships we have, the more all of us can help bring our clients in front of other people who can provide them with the support they need. Partnerships also really help to spread the word. We can reach more people and spread our message, because it’s really all about the kids.” – Barbara Coates
Q: What do you enjoy the most about the Dan’s Legacy-Aunt Leah’s partnership?
“What I really like is that it feels like a family, because of the honesty and integrity of the people who are involved. For everyone it’s not just a job for them, people put their heart and soul into this work. [Everyone at Aunt Leah’s] has made all of us at Dan’s Legacy feel so welcome. When [our participants] come to Aunt Leah’s, I get the feeling that they feel like they are at home. They feel welcomed, they feel like they have a family, [and] that there isn’t any judgement. They can just hang out and be themselves, and that is wonderful. That’s what I really enjoy the most about this partnership.” – Barbara Coates
Q: What can other organizations learn from the Dan’s Legacy-Aunt Leah’s partnership model?
“I think building on each other’s strengths is really important. We partner with organizations like Aunt Leah’s who have already demonstrated that they have a skillset that is really needed in the community, and we add to their skillset and ours by the linkages. That’s the key thing, is being able to partner with likeminded organizations so that you are basically providing a full service… This ‘wrap-around’ mentality that a lot of organizations have is basically a new way of saying, ‘I’ve built my silo, we do it all, we don’t need anyone else’ and that’s always a trap. It is much better to be a master at what you do, focus on what you do well and partner with organizations that have a different skillset because nobody can master it all.” – Tom Littlewood
Q: How can people and organizations get involved or help?
There are lots of different ways to support the meaningful work Dan’s Legacy is doing. One is to donate. Whether it be grants, individual or corporate donations or sponsorships, everything helps. Another way to get involved is volunteering. Dan’s Legacy’s welcomes new board members, has various committees to join, hosts an annual gala, as well as the weekly Sunday Haven dinners at Aunt Leah’s Place. Finally, Barbara explained, “the easiest thing to do that is probably the most effective, is to become an ambassador for the cause and help spread awareness of our program. That way more people can know who we are, what we are doing and the kids who need our help. Doing whatever you can to help spread the word is amazing.”
By “working WITH other organizations to support at-risk youth rather than being in competition with each other, our programs [can] complement each other, so neither organization has to be the expert in all things. Aunt Leah’s provides housing, life-skills and employment skills, while our expertise is in trauma-informed therapy. Together it’s a fantastic relationship with a common shared goal, and our outcomes in the past few years prove this. The more we can get community organizations providing wrap-around services to partner up with each other, the more effective we can be in helping these vulnerable youth.”