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Spring 2024 E-Newsletter

May 10, 2024

Welcome to the latest edition of our quarterly newsletter, where we celebrate the incredible impact of your support.

The first flowers always feel like a cause for celebration and this spring Aunt Leah’s celebrates the impact of our advocacy for equitable opportunities for foster youth.  Your steadfast support enables us to provide critical services and raise our voices for improved social service systems.

In this season’s E-News we’ll share stories of new and positive social policy changes that benefit foster youth, honor the contributions of our valued volunteers, recognize mothers who beat the odds, and map our next steps in creating and providing supportive housing in our community.

Aunt Leah’s Properties Update

May 10, 2024

In our winter edition, we told you about our plans to build a laneway house at the Aunt Leah’s House location in Burnaby. The new addition will provide housing for two moms and their babies. We are pleased to say that construction has begun, all permitting and permissions were accomplished in early spring and we are well into laying foundations. Completion and opening is predicted for this coming September or October.  

Moms who beat the odds 

May 10, 2024

Mother’s Day is almost here and Aunt Leah’s celebrates the mothers who come to our Thresholds houses when they face some of their life’s greatest challenges – homelessness and the risk of losing their children.  Their strength, determination and courage in taking charge of their lives is unparalleled.   
Thank you for supporting Aunt Leah’s to provide 3 homes for 18 moms and their children last year. Here is Chelsea’s story. 

Chelsea was a pregnant 15-year-old in foster care with nowhere to go. That was when Aunt Leah’s, stepped in.

“I don’t think I could have raised my daughter on my own without that help,” says Chelsea. “Aunt Leah’s has been like a family to me. They taught me how to take care of my baby and myself.”

Without the stable housing and support that Aunt Leah’s House offered, Chelsea would have been at risk of losing her baby to the child welfare system.

With Aunt Leah’s support, Chelsea learned life skills and how to care for her baby. She also went back to school and graduated from South Burnaby High school and then an aesthetician program.

After establishing a career as an aesthetician and successfully caring for her two children, Chelsea found herself homeless and without a job at the beginning of the pandemic. “It was brutal. I was renovicted, and the salon was shut down due to Covid. I was couch-surfing on a friend’s couch with nowhere to go. An Aunt Leah’s participant reached out to me, and I contacted them. They were so helpful.”

Chelsea moved into the Aunt Leah’s Laneway house with her two children. They are now in school, and Chelsea is upgrading her skills at college with hopes of opening her own salon.

“A strong mom can conquer any mountain, with her children by her side.”

Michelle Obama, Becoming, 2018

Volunteers, the roots of Aunt Leah’s strength and purpose

May 10, 2024

“Aunt Leah’s is different from many other social service agencies because they are not satisfied with providing only their participants’ bare basic day-to-day survival needs. Instead, they take a much longer-term approach, with a very wide range of programs and services tailored to each person’s individual needs and goals. The end goal is to provide the participants with all the tools and resources needed to progress into happy, successful, self-sufficiency.

I first learned about Aunt Leah’s more than 10 years ago, when I started volunteering at one of the fundraising Christmas tree lots. I have returned to the same lot, year after year, where I see a lot of familiar faces. Recently, I started helping Fulton Tom and other volunteers with the Wednesday food program. I can’t think of many better uses for my time and money than helping Aunt Leah’s. And besides —- it’s fun!”

— Ken Gray, donor and volunteer

Ken Gray and Fulton Tom, Food Security Coordinator
Ken Gray and Fulton Tom, Food Security Coordinator

We are currently looking for volunteers to help at our Thrift Store and also need help covering reception once a week. To learn more about our volunteer opportunities and how you can get involved, please visit our website at https://auntleahs.org/support-us/volunteer/

New and improved services for foster youth 

May 10, 2024

Aunt Leah’s has long advocated that foster youth need and deserve the same care and support that parented youth receive from their families.  You have enabled us to replicate that support by providing housing, life skills learning, education navigation, and employment training.  The Ministry of Children and Families now acknowledges these critical needs and has moved to offer more of these supports themselves.  We will see how these new financial aids, system navigation services, and a longer timeline for services will play out.

Our role will continue to focus on the key determinant of building successful lives – safe, secure and affordable housing.  Please take a few minutes to read a recent article in the Vancouver Sun that captures Aunt Leah’s perspective and the hoped-for impact of new social services changes as seen by foster youth.

 

 

Winter 2024 E-Newsletter

February 16, 2024

Aunt Leah’s first e-news of 2024 is here! If you’re new to Aunt Leah’s family, we welcome you with open arms. We are excited and grateful for your support. 2024 is shaping up to be a busy year, filled with important updates to share, stories to celebrate, and much more in store! In our first e-newsletter of the year, we have an update on Aunt Leah’s fundraising efforts over the holiday season, including some comments from some of you! Later on, we dive into a story about our continued work with Aunt Leah’s Properties around housing.

An Update on Aunt Leah’s Fundraising Efforts

February 16, 2024

Thanks to your support, we raised $372,164 over the holiday season! Aunt Leah’s will be able to offer the stability, resources, and support that over 700 young people know they can depend on every year, all thanks to you!

Some of you even shared a bit about why you decided to make a gift to support our work, and we want to take the time to acknowledge and highlight your comments…

“I had a loving family that taught me how to live with compassion and love.  Foster kids need the same and I believe Aunt Leah’s provides that.”  2023 Year End Donor

“We believe helping youth as they age out of care is very important. Each person you assist is one less living on the street!” – 2023 Year End Donor

The year ahead and the housing imperative – Aunt Leah’s takes action

February 16, 2024

2024 promises to be a challenging year for people living with limited means, especially in Metro Vancouver. Aunt Leah’s and the youth we serve know all too well that finding and keeping adequate housing has reached crisis proportions.

An all too common story

Young man sitting outside, thinking

Jason came to Aunt Leah’s last year. He had aged out of the foster system and was living rough around the New Westminster community. His experiences with shelters had been negative. He felt safer living outside until a permanent home could be found. He came into our community hub to warm up, shower, eat, and take food, clothes, and a sleeping bag to sustain him while we looked for housing for him.

It took us three months to find him an adequate place to live. His plan to go back to school was on hold. Even with six months of housing subsidies from the provincial government, all we could find for him was a room in a shared house for $1100. He has been there for a month only to have one of his roommates exhibit violent behaviour and steal some of his belongings. The search begins again…..

As so often we have done in the past, Aunt Leah’s will step up to address the immense need for stable and safe housing for young people. We’ve reimagined our strong relationship with Aunt Leah’s Foundation through a rebrand as Aunt Leah’s Properties, which reflects the symbiotic relationship between the two organizations. Together, we provide housing by buying, building, and managing facilities while offering all the support necessary for youth to move toward independence successfully. Find the new Aunt Leah’s Properties website at auntleahsproperties.org.

Our first initiative will include adding a laneway house to our newly rebuilt Aunt Leah’s House property in Burnaby. Government funding for the bricks and mortar has been secured, but we are fundraising to close the final $200,000 gap to complete the budget. We’re waiting for the City to finalize permitting as we continue our annual request for support to offer programs for the young women and children who will soon be able to enjoy a new home.

Aunt Leah's House, an overhead photo

We are actively pursuing the purchase of apartment buildings in the community through the new provincial Rental Protection Fund (rentalprotectionfund.ca). This fund allows non-profits to purchase and manage existing affordable housing into the future.  

Our third approach to create more housing stock focuses on applications to BC Housing. We have applied with the endorsement of the City of New Westminster to build 77 housing units in New Westminster on Marine Way. Decisions on this new development will be made by April 2024.

These ambitious initiatives will require every ounce of our dedication and commitment. We are confident in our approach and buoyed by the broad and deep support we receive from you, our supporters. Stand by for further announcements soon, and please reach out anytime to learn more about our ongoing work and these projects.

 

We’ll end with some comments from one of our corporate foundation donors, Don Forsgren, Vice-Chair, Intracorp Foundation and CEO, Intracorp Homes, who writes, “Through the Intracorp Foundation, we collaborate with trusted partners to improve the lives of vulnerable children, youth, and their families. We are proud to support Aunt Leah’s Thresholds program and its mission to provide safe accommodation and wraparound services for new mothers and pregnant women at risk of homelessness. Our dedication to systemic change drives us to connect program participants with community resources, facilitating the development of essential life skills and providing access to education and training opportunities. This, we believe, is vital to helping these young families realize their potential.”

Aunt Leah’s work is more important than ever and we couldn’t do it without the support of Aunt Leah’s community. Thank you for caring so deeply about the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people and families.

Sarah Stewart and Jacqueline Dupuis, Executive Directors, Aunt Leah’s and Aunt Leah’s Properties

Fall 2023 E-Newsletter

September 14, 2023

In this edition, we bring you two timely stories. We’ll speak with Avis Lam, the coordinator of our education program, to discuss the impact of recent updates to the BC government’s Tuition Waiver program for former youth from foster care, and find out how Aunt Leah’s continues to support our participants to achieve their educational goals. 

And we’ll hear from Aunt Leah’s founder, Gale Stewart, on the importance of continuing our work by making a bequest and joining “Leah’s Legacy”, a compassionate community of supporters.

Leah’s Legacy – Giving for the Future

September 14, 2023

Over the years, Gale Stewart has been a major changemaker and role model. Her multiple initiatives as the Founder of Aunt Leah’s Place has made a positive impact for thousands of young people, moms, and babies. Her leadership and tenacity, sparked by the beginnings of the organization during 1988, remains a bright beacon for the community as her determination to make a difference has only grown as she moves towards retirement and aims to leave a legacy.

 

“The Legacy is that there will always be that extra seat at the table for a young person who could come into Aunt Leah’s community.”

 

What are your goals for the future of the Legacy program?

“There were so many individual donors and organizations and foundations who helped us, especially over the first twenty years, and without that support, this organization would not be here today. For them helping Aunt Leah’s into the future is an easy thing. I’d like to see the legacy program grow so that over the next decades you see the continuation of those people’s support.”

 

What made you decide to move forward and launch the Leah’s Legacy program now?

“Well, when I retired, I found that I had time and energy to work on the program. It was always thought about but there was never any time to invest any kind of energy into it. Usually, we need to fundraise for immediate needs or next year’s work and the legacy program is an entirely different conceptual idea. 

I’m fortunate to be able to offer my experience and connection with so many committed supporters to build the program and the capacity of our organization.” 

 

What does it mean to you to leave a Legacy? For yourself and overall?

“Well, personally when I think of our family, Paul, and I, leaving a gift in our wills, I think of it as a metaphor of a family table. Because our family sat together at a table and foster kids have not had that experience in their home, they’ve often been moved around. The Legacy is that there will always be that extra seat at the table for a young person who could come into Aunt Leah’s community.

It comes out of my history with my grandmother Leah. I look at old pictures where people sit at a table and even though we don’t know some of the faces we do know that she welcomed that stranger to a meal, at any time.”

 

Do you have any advice for Aunt Leah’s future leaders? 

“Surround yourself with people who are a lot smarter than you, because your leadership will be more effective, and it’ll be more satisfying.  That’s been my experience, just having people around you who know much more than you in their areas of expertise brings strength to the work.”

 

How are Legacy Gifts used at Aunt Leah’s?

“People do have the choice and I do let them know that they can direct their gift toward a particular program. However, Aunt Leah’s will want to change and provide the most important supports as time goes on. Generally people want their bequest to go where it is needed.”

 

What is the process for joining the Leah’s Legacy program? 

“The most important thing is to have our charitable number and go talk with your lawyer or financial advisor, whoever is close to you and then connect to Aunt Leah’s.” https://auntleahs.org/support-us/legacy-giving/

Education – The Opportunity to Thrive

September 14, 2023

Aunt Leah’s Education Program aims to assist foster youth and moms in achieving their educational goals.  Avis Lam, our Education Program Coordinator, works with her team in constructing integrated academic and career plans for each of the program participants. An important part of this role is acting as a wayfinder for young people to navigate the complexities of the post-secondary education system while ensuring they are aware of the resources already available to them. A part of these resources is the BC Tuition Waiver Program, which assists foster youth financially and can alleviate the need for them to use student loans to pursue their studies. The age restriction for this waiver program has recently been lifted for foster youth. In this interview, Avis explains that despite the added government support, foster youth seeking Aunt Leah’s help has increased. 

 

“The complexities of government programs and how they are delivered have been difficult for youth to navigate and understand.  Now that we are meeting with more youth about starting school or coming back to school, we have been able to address this misinformation about the tuition waiver, by holding information sessions.“

 

How has Aunt Leah’s education program been affected by the extension of the BC Tuition Waiver Program to foster youth with no age restriction?

 “We definitely have noticed an increase in participants coming back to connect with us, inquiring about the tuition waiver, or thinking about education in general. Now that the age limits with the tuition waiver are being removed, we see more people inquiring about furthering their education.”

 

There was previously a lot of misinformation about the education program eligibility and the tuition waiver, recently revealed in the Ombudsperson’s report – Misinformed: How the Ministry of Children and Family Development failed in its permanency planning obligations to a youth in care  

“The complexities of government programs and how they are delivered have been difficult for youth to navigate and understand.  Now that we are meeting with more youth about starting school or coming back to school, we have been able to address this misinformation about the tuition waiver, by holding information sessions.  

The removal of an age cap for the tuition waiver program allows youth to have more time to upgrade the credentials and skills they need for admission to programs and to take the time to find a program that will suit them best. 

As well they have more time to set themselves up to go back to school – to find and secure safe, affordable housing, and improve life skills and employment skills. 

One of our participants has come back to Aunt Leah’s for support, and we have already signed them up for school now that there is no longer an age cap.”

 

What kind of supports are youth looking for when accessing Aunt Leah’s Education Program? 

“Help with how to navigate the system, sign up, understand how the registration system works, tutoring, and funding – even though tuition is free through the BC Tuition Waiver Program, and the Learning Grant which helps with textbooks, technology and supplies, these programs don’t offset other costs for participants pursuing their education. 

Youth may need help with childcare, transportation, and emergency housing and food. 

We regularly connect youth with learning centres and tutors at their schools or through United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College), an organization that provides no cost volunteer tutors. 

Sometimes students need alternative tutoring support, usually when their school does not offer a tutor for their studies (often advanced studies), and we help to find private tutors to ensure participants have the appropriate resource to support them in their studies.”

 

What recent highlights in the past 3-6 months would you like to share? ? 

“All of the tutors from United for Literacy have been very attentive and supportive with our participants. We’ve had a few graduates for sure, which is always exciting. A few graduates from college, and then we have one participant who has graduated from high school, getting ready to move on to college. One of our participants has recently made it onto the dean’s list at their school, and we are extremely proud of them and celebrate this achievement!”

 

What is on the horizon for Aunt Leah’s Education Program? 

“We definitely need to strengthen our upgrading services. There are more youth accessing our services, who have not been in school for a long time, or their experience with education has not always been positive.

I always feel that it’s so important to build up every individual’s learning readiness and ensure that we have a variety of tutors available to support us as best we can.  A drop-in homework club with tutors might work well.”

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

“Please consider supporting our program. We are 100% supported by individual donors and private funders. Our High Needs Fund and Emergency Housing Fund provided 56 young people with help this past year.  The BC Government is beginning to step up with support for education and life skills learning. The big gap is support for parenting and childcare.”

Summer 2023 E-Newsletter

July 4, 2023

In this summer edition of Aunt Leah’s E-News, we share some updates for the month of June and hear from two of our monthly donors about Aunt Leah’s impact and how they are finding new ways to stay involved with the organization. We also have a recap of our Annual Youth Awards and share a story of success and care for the community from local business and recent donor Anh & Chi. Read on to find out the latest news as we prepare to kick off summer.

You can read these stories from our 2023 Summer issue below