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WHAT’S NEW

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

Anh and Chi: A Story of Success and Care for the Community

July 4, 2023

When times got hard for small restaurants during COVID, entrepreneur sister and brother, Amelie and Vincent Nguyen owners of Anh and Chi restaurant on Main St. in Vancouver, came up with a great way to keep staff and guests safe while supporting people who were struggling in the community.

“Reservation by Donation” gives guests an option to reserve a table by donating $10 per person to a charity of their choice. Every quarter to half a year, the Anh and Chi team shortlists 3-4 community-nominated charities to support BIPOC communities, young people living with mental illness, homelessness, drug use, or food scarcity; seniors living with dignity; and/or refugees and immigrants seeking food and shelter.

Aunt Leah’s was one of those lucky charities. We are thrilled and grateful to Vincent and Amelie for imagining this fabulous way to support the community and thank all of you who voted for us when you made your reservation. Our gift totalled $26,960! These funds will go toward providing housing and support for vulnerable young moms and their kids and youth from foster care with life skills learning, emergency food and funds, education navigation, and employment training.

Anh and Chi Fundraiser
Anh and Chi Fundraiser

Everyone at Aunt Leah’s appreciates the Nguyen family story of survival and commitment – how they built a home in a strange country, their innovation, and their street smarts. As Vietnamese refugees, Mom and Dad arrived in 1980 and began the Pho Hoàng, the very first and most iconic Pho specialty house in Vancouver. The family has thrived with their business endeavours ever since.

There are clear parallels between the Nguyen and the Stewart family who founded Aunt Leah’s. The two families, in fact, were born and brought up in the same East Vancouver neighbourhood, attended the same schools, and took part in local community activities.

 

Gale Stewart, Aunt Leah's founder, with Amélie Nguyễn
Gale Stewart, Aunt Leah’s founder, with Amélie Nguyễn

The Stewarts’ inspiration comes from their Aunt Leah, who took in people during the 1930s great depression and provided them with food and shelter.  Sarah Stewart, Executive Director, carries on the tradition of giving people a way forward, with 59 staff serving 720 young people from foster care last year.

In May this year, we all met at Aunt Leah’s centre in New Westminster. On presenting Aunt Leah’s staff with the giant cheque, Vincent told us, “This is one of the best things I get to do!”  
Aunt Leah’s is honoured to receive this gift from Anh and Chi, and we’ll continue our partnership to build and support our community.

 

Anh and Chi at Aunt Leah's New Westminster Office
Anh and Chi at Aunt Leah’s New Westminster Office Front Desk

June Celebrations

June 29, 2023

June signals the start of summer, but it also includes essential celebrations like BC Child & Youth in Care Week, National Indigenous History Month, Pride Month, and National Indigenous Peoples Day. We have been hard at work finding ways to involve participants in programming, meals, and events that tie in culture and celebrate diversity.

As part of BC Child & Youth in Care Week, participants came together to enjoy an evening at Central City Fun Park, where they shared a meal, played arcade games, and won prizes! Aunt Leah’s also held our Annual Youth Awards Celebration, where participants were recognized for their achievements and efforts with one of five awards.

BC Child & Youth in Care Week aims to raise social awareness and shift negative perceptions, to recognize children and youth in care, like all young people, as individuals with talents, contributions, and dreams. A group of youth in and from care advocated for this week so their siblings in care could grow up feeling celebrated for their diverse talents and accomplishments, surrounded by a supportive community that stands with them. They also wanted to raise awareness about the barriers they face and fight the stigma that comes with being a “foster kid.”

Proclaimed by the province of British Columbia in 2011, BC Child and Youth in Care Week (BCCYICW) is a time for everyone in communities across the province to support and celebrate our province’s incredible, diverse young people in government care. Youth envisioned a week that acknowledges and celebrates the unique strength of young people in care, and that’s how BC Child and Youth in Care Week was created.

BC Youth In Care Week Celebration


Aunt Leah's  2SLGBTQIA+ support graphic

Aunt Leah’s is proud to provide a safe and inclusive space for our 2SLGBTQIA+ youth! June is historically known as Pride Month, but it also kicks off Pride Season, which refers to the wide range of Pride events that take place over the summer, including the New Westminster Pride Parade in June and the Vancouver Pride Parade in August.

Did you know that Pride gatherings emerged from the first large-scale protests for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights? In Canada, the first demonstrations took place in Ottawa and Vancouver in 1971.


In recognition of National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day, Aunt Leah’s encouraged staff and participants to attend events in their local communities and learn more about the rich and diverse cultures, voices, experiences, and histories of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Peoples.

National Indigenous History Month Aunt Leah's Booth

Grand Re-Opening of Aunt Leah’s House

April 26, 2023

Newly rebuilt Aunt Leah’s House welcomes women and their babies once again

Aunt Leah’s Foundation announced at the beginning of 2023, the completion of its most recent social purpose housing project, the rebuilding of the original Aunt Leah’s House. Operated by Aunt Leah’s Place, since the 1980s, Aunt Leah’s House has been a safe haven for young moms (often in foster care themselves) and their babies to ensure families remain together and not separated by the child welfare system.

In 2020, pandemic restrictions and protocols limited the number of moms that could be accommodated in an aging house, and repairs and maintenance costs increased to the point where the original house was no longer operable. Aunt Leah’s Foundation undertook the rebuilding of the original house. The project was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home program, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s National Housing Co-Investment Fund, and the Government of British Columbia’s Community Gaming Grants Capital Projects program, as well as a number of generous private donors.

Aunt Leah's House

A former foster parent herself, Gale Stewart, Founder of Aunt Leah’s and B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship Award recipient, saw first-hand the importance of “beginnings” as it applied to the bonding of mom & baby and how she could create a home where these young moms could enjoy the comfort of a lovely space, good food, and intimate times with their newborns. The new purpose-built home has four bedrooms with attached bathrooms, a large training kitchen, office space, and a second-stage self-contained suite that a mom can graduate into. “Together we will continue to provide comfortable beginnings for vulnerable moms and babies, helping to reunite and keep families together,“ said Gale Stewart.

Aunt Leah's House

Now, in 2023, Aunt Leah’s House is beginning to feel like home once again. Participants in Aunt Leah’s Thresholds program have started moving into the house and the legacy of the home that started it all, continues to grow.

Aunt Leah's House

Supported by Aunt Leah’s Thresholds Program, moms live in a safe, caring home environment where they can learn how to care for their babies with the guidance of staff and family support workers. “For 35 years this house has been dedicated to keeping families together,” said Sarah Stewart, Executive Director of Aunt Leah’s Place. “During this time more than 400 families have called Aunt Leah’s house home and we are honoured to continue to serve our community in this way.”

“Despite the challenges of fundraising and executing a project during pandemic times, it was the critical support of our partners, government funders, and donors who believed in its importance that made it possible,” said Jacqueline Dupuis, Executive Director of Aunt Leah’s Foundation.

Aunt Leah's House Aunt Leah's House

Spring 2023 E-Newsletter

April 26, 2023

In this edition, we share an update on Aunt Leah’s newest home for young mothers and their families in our Thresholds program. We have a story on one of our supporters, whose journey as a volunteer at Aunt Leah’s comes full circle. His story is powerful, shining light on what it means to give back to your community and how he continues to make a difference. Read on to catch up with how things are going at Aunt Leah’s so far, in 2023.

You can read these stories from our 2023 Spring issue below