Dianna’s Story

A Mother’s Journey to Independence

Dianna is a former Aunt Leah’s Place participant, who is now living independently with her son Adrian, and is a real success story. In 2011, she came to Aunt Leah’s House as a single teen mother with her six-month-old baby boy. It was a big transition, “It was a new experience living here with staff and other moms 24/7. I liked it because there was help when I needed it and just being around people that are in the same situation. Single mom. Teenager.” At Aunt Leah’s, Dianna was able to get help with important supports like having staff watch her son, if she needed a break . Dianna also was able to get support to learn how to be a mom and learn life skills, such as learning how to cook and clean . There were also moments of celebration, “Christmas, Easter, all those were fun. Mother’s Day, Halloween, all the moms would come here and past moms – we can all connect.”

Coming to Aunt Leah’s proved to be a turning point for Dianna. As she was able to get the support she needed to move forward. “They were able to help me get back into school. They were encouraging and supportive, and I guess helped me become a better mom with all the stuff they do.” Dianna was committed to building a strong foundation with the daily juggle of taking her son to daycare, attending young parent programs, learning life skills, and just being a parent and taking care of her son. It paid off because she graduated. Dianna recalls how the staff at Aunt Leah’s were invaluable. And what Dianna found most surprising, were all the supports that were available to her and the funding she could access through Aunt Leah’s Place. “I was able to sign my son up for soccer camp and one time I received a gym pass for a year.”

Dianna’s hard work was recognized, winning the Leah Award, which included an education bursary and a laptop. By the age of 18, she moved out, but it was not an entirely smooth transition.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but it was harder.” It has been a slow process, but Dianna says there was light at the end of the tunnel. Dianna’s son Adrian is now flourishing and he is currently attending French immersion school, participating in soccer, and is growing to become a thoughtful person who is her pride and joy. “He’s really hard working. He doesn’t want to fail at anything, so he tries his best, and I have to remind myself to be patient…. He reminds me that life is great.”

Dianna is independent and thriving but remains connected to Aunt Leah’s saying, “Well, everyone who works with Aunt Leah’s is positive and supportive. It’s really supportive, and the environment is really welcoming and warm. I continue to come because it’s a family.” Dianna does not have immediate family living in the province and Aunt Leah’s family model has been instrumental in letting her know she has someone here for her. “If I ever need anything, I can ask.”

“Well, everyone who works with Aunt Leah’s is positive and supportive. It’s really supportive, and the environment is really welcoming and warm. I continue to come because it’s a family.”

Now Dianna is looking at the next chapter with big goals as she is finishing her education requirements. “Education assistant, that’s my goal this year. I think I will finish upgrading by July, and then I can finally start my dreams of being an education assistant.” Dianna is also volunteering twice a week at a kids club, attends Aunt Leah’s on Tuesday’s Cooking club and is primed to become a mentor and role model showing participants what their future can be. Dianna explains, “I want to help young moms too because I’ve been there…I understand.” In the next ten years, Dianna hopes to help children and families by becoming a social worker and giving back, saying, “Hey, maybe I can work at Aunt Leah’s too.”



Lale House & Supportive Suites

The Art of Giving

Photo: Tania Rowland, Program Coordinator outside of Lale House

“A house is made with walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is Lale House?

Lale House is an important program that provides affordable communal housing for young adults 19 to 28 who have aged out of foster care, and are currently homeless or at risk of being without a home. Finding safe and budget-sensitive accommodations in the Lower Mainland is exceptionally challenging anytime of the year, but is even more critical at a time like this, when there is a pandemic that is creating a lot of anxiety and a much more uncertain economic future for these young adults.

Lale House is more than just giving a place to live and take shelter. It’s the realized dream of two local philanthropists to provide housing for homeless youth. (They choose to be mentioned as LD and PD). LD explained, the couple having two children of their own, they wish for all young people to have environments of safety, caring and support to grow up in, just as their own kids had. Over the years, LD had read and heard about Aunt Leah’s work which she found very meaningful and wanted to contribute to it. She had the idea that she could own a principal property and offer the use of it to a charity such as Aunt Leah’s. LD elaborated, “I had some money in the bank but having it just sit there did not contribute to my sense of happiness. I believe that money is some kind of energy and I would like that energy to be in service of something meaningful. Ideally the energy would support the well-being of others. I think that’s it: I wanted the money, instead of sitting idly in the bank, to serve by actively contributing to somebody’s well-being.”

How did you partner with Aunt Leah’s Place to find Lale House?

LD was motivated by a sense of equality, saying, “In a society that I would call wealthy compared to the rest of the world, to see people who don’t have homes, I find that really, really heartbreaking.” She and her husband set out to address this dilemma because of a feeling of societal responsibility. “To be quite honest, I feel it’s our social duty. We have a comfortable home, and why shouldn’t some less fortunate young people have access to decent accommodations as well.” For her, the social contract is obvious. “As a human, I believe we have a responsibility to other humans as well. Making a house available to some young people who don’t have housing, to help them become independent and support them in their growth, really makes me happy.” LD expressed her gratitude to Aunt Leah’s for providing her and her husband with the opportunity to make their idea a reality, describing how they worked with Executive Director Sarah Stewart, who was incredibly supportive in guiding the process from recommending what kind of home would be best, to attending open houses, providing feedback, establishing an agreement and then finally finding a mutually acceptable and suitable home. “She made the whole process very easy. Giving has proven to be a win-win situation as Aunt Leah’s has also taken away all our concerns about having to look after and manage a house. We provided the house and Aunt Leah’s looks after all the rest, such as insurance, taxes, maintenance, etc.”

In April 2019, the right house was found to provide a home for five young adults in search of independence.

What can Lale House offer participants?

Those who have been formerly youth in care, often find it more challenging to go immediately into a fully self-sufficient life. Like the other programs at Aunt Leah’s Place, Lale House follows a family model, where young adult individuals who may not always be ready to be out on their own can get support in a safe and comfortable environment. The setting is intended to be used as a transition platform where participants can obtain the skills or training they need to become fully independent. Aware that participants needed varying levels of support, Lale House was designed accordingly. The home is a single-detached, newly renovated, home with five bedrooms in New Westminster. It’s fully furnished and located for easy access to transit. As an extension to Lale House, when participants are ready to live independently, they can move to one of two private supported suites that have been modelled after Aunt Leah’s Support Link suites. Each suite has a landlord living upstairs and Aunt Leah’s staff do periodic check-ins to ensure a smooth transition.

For LD her dreams for the participants are simple, “My hope would be that these young people would be able to get an education, find a job and eventually become self-reliant. This, I hope, will give them a better chance for a better, happier, independent life.”

“My hopes would be that they find some education, find a job, and find a life that will be satisfactory to them, that it’s going to be a good life. That they can become independent.”

At Lale House, participants work one-on-one with a care worker and get directed to the programs that are the most appropriate for their needs and aspirations. Such programs include life skills, mental health counselling, as well as education and employment support. They also receive bus tickets, passes to the gym, and there are recreational activities planned for everyone to participate.

For LD & PD it boils down to this: “We were very happy when Sarah informed us that one person already left the house because he had graduated and was now ready to live on his own. News like this give us way more satisfaction than a bank-statement showing our assets ever could.”

However, parenting is difficult at the best of times, and all the more as the coronavirus pandemic leads to shutdowns and all Canadians are asked to practise social distancing. Many young people who might otherwise be out with friends, at school, or playing sports now find themselves having to isolate at home. Particularly difficult is the fact that some do not see the novel coronavirus as a threat to their own health and well- being and find it difficult to follow the rules.

The young people living at the house are no different and Aunt Leah’s staff is having to adjust, like every other parent, to ensure that their mental and physical well-being are not compromised. This also means being creative to meet them where they are and relaxing the expectations on educational and job training goals.

And while the plans to go to an escape room, go-karting, or wall climbing with the housemates will have to wait, the good news for this bunch, is that thanks to the generosity of LD &PD who have provided the house and to all donors who support our programs, these young adults will have continuous support until the world is at a better place and they are ready to pursue their dreams and goals on their own.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jonathan Lopez

The Power of Transformative Education

Once a week, Jonathan Lopez takes a pause from his project support position at the UBC’s Office of the Provost and is an Aunt Leah’s Place teacher with our Supporting Education For Foster Youth (SEFFY) program. SEFFY’s mission is to support long-term education planning for foster youth and former foster youth in care, primarily between the ages of 16 to 24. He works in partnership with foster youth and other caring professionals in their lives to promote education permanency, with specific focuses on advocacy, resources, reducing barriers and career planning.

A year and a half ago, when Jonathan came on board as a teacher, he initially thought that he was going to teach Math, English and get students to post-secondary education. His work has proved to be infinitely more profound. “I’ve come to understand it as trying to demystify the post-secondary landscape to youth who don’t really have support otherwise.” Jonathan helps them understand what these sorts of things mean in their academic trajectories, in their lives and help make it less scary.

Jonathan came to Aunt Leah’s Place through Frontier College, a national charitable literacy organization that works with volunteers and community partners to give people the skills and confidence they need to reach their potential and contribute to society. He was put in contact with staff from the SEFFY program. What drew him to the role, was helping participants move into the next chapter of their life and how pivotal of a time it is. It was a very unique fit Jonathan explains, “because of my experience transition from secondary to post-secondary education and all the associated questions that come with the uncertainty of making a big life decision.” Jonathan is usually the final step in a long process that the participants have invested in.

“I often see participants after they’ve gone through all the other services they have at Aunt Leah’s Place. That is, they are positive they have secure housing, they have food security, they have all that stuff, and now they can think about education, so I really do need to thank [Aunt Leah’s Place] for putting participants in the position to seek out this kind of help.”
What does learning with Jonathan look like?

What does learning with Jonathan look like?

Jonathan is tasked with making learning exciting and accessible. “If they see me getting excited about , I hope to project this upon them and to show them that this stuff may not be as fun as video game, it’s certainly interesting.” He has to ensure that he’s engaging participants so that they can get the most out of the program. “I try my hardest to try to make the content relevant to the students to make it not some sort of esoteric or arcane knowledge that’s just a hoop for to jump through.”

Jonathan hopes to empower participants through education and . He’s pleased that there are support mechanisms to make education accessible our provincial government extend tuition waivers. He works with students to build confidence in their abilities. Often participants have an ingrained belief that they aren’t smart. The traditional educational system has often been harmful because it leaves them underserved. Participants can feel they didn’t succeed because of a personal failing. Jonathan is firm that “they are perfectly bright youth, but they’ve had a really hard time.” He recalled sitting with a student teaching math and recognizing the problem immediately. Her reply was, I guess I’m not dumb.” Jonathan was overcome with emotion, “I almost started crying…because she had confidence.” This student was always told she was bad at math, but she clearly wasn’t. “At the end of the day, I didn’t really care that she understood the Pythagorean theorem, but her understanding that she can learn things in her life, that is what I think transformative education is. That’s real.”

Has participating in this program transformed Jonathan?

For Jonathan, change in the classroom works both ways, “It’s massively changed how I approach teaching…I very often have to employ adaptive teaching, I try to relate the material to more so than I would in any other context. Jonathan has learned as well to appreciate and approach each student more holistically to accomplish transformative learning. “This can be as small as hey this student hasn’t slept well in the past couple of days. She wants to work on stuff, but keep that in mind before going on with the lesson. There are other priorities here.”

When asked about why he thinks it is important to volunteer, Jonathan says “I remember when I was young, I had a very idealistic worldview. We need to change the system. And I found out I don’t need anyone’s permission to change stuff. I can make small changes in the things that I do every day. So that i this.”

During COVID19, Frontier College is working with Aunt Leah’s to provide an online platform that allows students to continue working together on their educational goals with Jonathan’s invaluable support.

Special thanks to storyteller and writer, Tami Gabay for volunteering her time and talent to write the stories in this newsletter.