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Fulton’s Story

April 25, 2023

Fulton’s Story | Volunteering is great, but I want to do more!

For thirty years, Fulton Tom was an economics professor at Langara College. “When covid hit, all our classes went online and I didn’t enjoy teaching online, it wasn’t very personal, you didn’t get to see the student’s faces, and you just didn’t know if they were understanding the lesson at all.” When the pandemic struck, moving classes to a virtual format, Fulton thought back to his life goal of retirement at age 55. “It would be great around 55 if I didn’t like what I was doing I could just stop doing it and so covid and the fact that all my teaching was online during covid, sort of convinced me I was done with teaching and I wanted to try some different things.” As Fulton transitioned into his retirement, enjoying all of his extra downtime, came the thought of what next?

 

After volunteering with Aunt Leah’s, Fulton’s dedication to the organization transitioned him to an official staff role, as Aunt Leah’s Food Security Specialist. Recognizing ways to improve efficiency and cut costs as a volunteer, Fulton wanted to give more of his time to Aunt Leah’s Place, including using his background in teaching to provide essential life skills to participants. Fulton loves to cook and loves to teach, so naturally he wanted to teach participants how to cook their own meals at home. “On Aunt Leah’s website, it talked about helping the participants learn basic cooking skills, and basic food preparation skills, so coming from a teaching background I was still really interested in teaching. I wasn’t that keen on teaching economics anymore, but cooking was something I thought I could teach to participants.”

Fulton Tom cooking in the kitchen

Every volunteer has something that connects them to the organization they support, and with Fulton, that connection goes almost as far back as the organization itself. “I had a long-ago connection with Aunt Leah’s, over 30 years ago I used to make ornaments and jewelry and tried to sell them. One of the first places I was selling them through, was Leah’s retail store in the Marpole area near marine drive. So, when it came to looking for a non-profit to volunteer for, I was looking locally, I live in New Westminster, and Aunt Leah’s was based in New Westminster. I had that connection long ago and Aunt Leah’s is really highly rated on Charity Intelligence, so those were some of the main reasons why I chose to volunteer with Aunt Leah’s.”

 

Fulton also acknowledges his own home life as part of the reason he decided to give back and volunteer with Aunt Leah’s. “I have an adult son that lives at home and I recognize the challenges that youth face today with high housing costs and low employment income and how they need support well into their adult years. It got me thinking, well if I’m supporting my adult son, what about youth that don’t have family support? I felt that given what I saw my son going through it was important to give back to the community and see how I could help others.”

Food stores for participants

“I have to say, the most heartwarming recognition that I get is from the participants when they come to get the meals and they tell me how much they appreciate getting a home-cooked meal. That’s really the best part of being a volunteer. Knowing that I’m doing something in the community that has value to someone is what makes it fulfilling.”

—Fulton Tom, Aunt Leah’s Food Security Specialist

Fulton Tom organizing food kits for participants

On the transition from a volunteer position to a staff role, Fulton says, “I see becoming a staff member, sort of extending my role as a volunteer and trying to make what we do here at Aunt Leah’s more efficient, both cost-efficient and more effective for the participants. One of my tasks is to try to increase the amount of food donations we get. So, it’s also a learning experience for me. Having volunteered, I thought there were some things that would really improve things for the participants and also, budget-wise for Aunt Leah’s. So, I thought I did retire, and I have a lot of time on my hands so that all sort of fell together and that’s the reason why I decided to apply for the role here. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is to give back some of the money, so I just signed up to be a monthly donor for Aunt Leah’s too.”

In May of 2022, Fulton began volunteering at Aunt Leah’s Place, supporting the organization with our food security program. He prepared meals for Aunt Leah’s participants on a weekly basis and organized grocery hampers for youth to bring home. “As a volunteer, I would come every Wednesday and my main role was to prepare and cook the Wednesday meal for participants. I would also be here when the food donation came in, so if I had time, I would help sort through that. Sometimes something comes in that perhaps doesn’t look good enough to go into a hamper, but I might be able to incorporate it into our meal. I equate it to the cooking competition chopped, where you get this mystery box and then you have to figure out what to make with it.”

Volunteer helping out in the kitchen

When asked what he would say to people who are considering volunteering, Fulton says, “I think they should take that step. Another benefit of volunteering, is you get to meet other people, like Esther, we were acquaintances before but we really didn’t know each other very well, but by volunteering together we have gotten to know each other much more and we have become really good friends.”

On whether or not he would recommend volunteering with Aunt Leah’s, Fulton says, “I would! Aunt Leah’s work is really meaningful to the participants that it helps. Talking with people at the appreciation dinner last night, they all talked about how they enjoyed their volunteer work, and how they really valued being part of Aunt Leah’s, noting that Aunt Leah’s is a top-rated charity, which I think should be encouraging for people. Letting people know that they have wonderful services for our participants and really make a difference in their lives. So those are things that people should keep in mind when they’re looking for volunteer opportunities.”

We are incredibly thankful for our volunteers, and without support from volunteers, Aunt Leah’s certainly would not be the organization we are today. A special thank you goes out to Fulton, we are so excited to see you continue to make a difference in the lives of our participants. 

Fulton Tom

Considering volunteering?

Learn more on our volunteers’ page


Aunt Leah’s House Reopening Celebration

January 25, 2023

Opening of the New Aunt Leah’s House Marks its 35th Anniversary

In January 2023, the newly rebuilt Aunt Leah’s House is set to welcome vulnerable women and their babies once again.

VANCOUVER, BCAunt Leah’s Foundation announced today 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 1980’s, 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. 

Supported by Aunt Leah’s Place Thresholds Program, moms live in a safe, caring home environment where they can learn how to care for their baby 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.” 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 will have 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 re-unite and keep families together,“ said Gale Stewart.

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. “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, Aunt Leah’s Foundation.

“Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” said The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion. Our government is proud to support the redevelopment of Aunt Leah’s House, a home where mothers can rest, grow and regain their independence in a safe and secure environment. At Aunt Leah’s, mothers will have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and access the critical support services necessary for them to emerge stronger. This is one way our government’s National Housing Strategy is ensuring no one is left behind.”

“Aunt Leah’s House provides a crucial service to those most vulnerable in our society. Its rebuilding ensures that more mothers and children will receive safe housing and services they need,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Municipal Affairs. “By funding important projects like this, the Province is helping support a brighter future for mothers, families and their little ones entering the world.”

About Aunt Leah’s Place
For over 30 years, Aunt Leah’s Place has been helping kids in foster care and young mothers achieve a better future. We do this by providing guidance, supported housing, job training and
coaching on essential life skills. We believe every individual deserves to feel safe, cared for, and have a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for many teens in the foster care system. When they “age out” of government care at 19, they find themselves completely alone. Aunt Leah’s often provides the only thread of care and continuity for youth whose lives are
marked by abuse, neglect, abandonment and multiple foster home placements. Over the years, we have seen how support at this critical time can help these young people realize their
potential while becoming resilient, independent adults.

About Aunt Leah’s Foundation
In 2013, recognizing the need for more housing options, Aunt Leah’s Place launched a foundation for the purpose of building a social purpose housing portfolio that would provide safe, affordable housing for new mothers and young people leaving foster care. Today the Foundation has a portfolio of four shared-living homes and an 11-unit apartment building, housing 25-30 at-risk youth each year. Most recently the Foundation undertook a project to rebuild the original Aunt Leah’s House.

Aunt Leah’s Christmas Tree Lots Provide Housing and Hope for Young Moms

January 24, 2023

For folks looking to get into the Christmas spirit this year, purchasing a fresh, locally sourced Aunt Leah’s Tree or volunteering at an Aunt Leah’s Tree lot – open in Vancouver November 24th, and in Burnaby and Coquitlam November 25th – is the perfect way to experience some holiday cheer and help support vulnerable foster youth and young moms and their children.

Chelsea was a pregnant 15-year-old in foster care with nowhere to go. That was when Aunt Leah’s Place, a Vancouver charity that provides housing and support for young moms and fosters teens, 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.

“Without a supportive home to go to, these young moms would be homeless and lose their babies to the foster care system,” says Sarah Stewart, Executive Director of Aunt Leah’s. “We are trying to stop this cycle.”

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.

The Aunt Leah’s Tree sales are a major source of revenue for the housing and programs that Aunt Leah’s provides for vulnerable foster youth and young moms and babies. Studies show that 50% of BC foster youth will experience homelessness, and young single moms have experienced even greater levels of housing and food insecurity during the pandemic.

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.

Aunt Leah’s has been a lifeline for moms in need, providing housing, food hampers, living essentials and a supportive and compassionate adult to help them navigate these challenging times. In addition to the current housing that Aunt Leah’s provides for young moms and children, Aunt Leah’s House in Burnaby is almost complete with 5 more families ready to move in January 2023. Plans are also underway to build a laneway house on the premises which will provide more housing and activity space, giving Aunt Leah’s new capacity to provide affordable housing to moms from care and their babies.

Proceeds from Aunt Leah’s Christmas Tree Lots will go toward supporting the programs needed to successfully run these housing projects.

Aunt Leah’s is also proud to announce that they have been selected as one of Canada’s Top 10 Impact Charities for 2022 by Charity Intelligence (Ci).

Fall 2022 E-Newsletter

September 14, 2022

Fall 2022 E-Newsletter

It’s time for new beginnings and Aunt Leah’s fall newsletter!

With the school season starting, we’d like to place Aunt Leah’s SEFFY (Supporting Education for Foster Youth) program in the spotlight! The fall edition of our newsletter celebrates the educational achievements of our participants and the ongoing impact of our donors.

Read Andrea’s journey through the SEFFY program and how her experience influenced her to become a supporter. You’ll also learn about the positive impact that our donors’ contributions make in fulfilling the educational goals of foster youth.

Andrea’s Story | A Journey of Support to Giving Back

 

As summer comes to a close, a new chapter begins for those starting post-secondary this fall. Aunt Leah’s SEFFY (Supporting Education for Foster Youth) program works with participants throughout their educational journey. Aunt Leah’s provided support to Andrea after she had graduated from high school and begun her post-secondary education. The pressures of maintaining housing while attending university full-time led to Andrea seeking out Aunt Leah’s SEFFY program. SEFFY staff provided support for Andrea to access various funding sources so she could gain some financial stability while continuing with her program. Aunt Leah’s staff remained connected with Andrea, checking in with her periodically, about her health and wellbeing. When Andrea was having difficulty navigating the post-secondary education system, SEFFY staff members advocated for Andrea and formed a support system for her.

Staff additionally met with Andrea to celebrate educational milestones and achievements, and to discuss any other education support she needed. 

Youth need connection, community and to celebrate important moments, and Aunt Leah’s Place provides this important support as well as financial assistance to support their education. 

Andrea has since gone on to graduate from her program and now works in the health care sector, as an emergency department nurse. She’s in contact with SEFFY staff. To give back and create opportunities for others like herself, Andrea created a peer-to-peer bursary, at Aunt Leah’s which she contributes to yearly.

Andrea, a previous SEFFY participant

“I’m so excited to be able to be in a position to help someone, just like how the SEFFY team and Aunt Leah’s Place helped me. I hope that as the years go by, I can increase the amount and help out more.” 

—Andrea, Former SEFFY Participant

Fall newsletter, a young man graduating

Education Supporters go to the Head of the Class!  

Did you know that in BC only 32% of foster youth graduate from high school within six years of entering Grade 8? That’s a marked difference from the overall graduation rate of 84%!

One of Aunt Leah’s most important achievements is the 74 youth who have graduated or are on track to graduate from high school between 2019 to 2022. 

We want to thank the Allan and Gill Gray Foundation – founded by Allan Gray, the owner of the international firm – Orbis Investments, for their extremely generous support which totaled $764,000. 

This deep commitment over the past 3 years enabled us to provide rental subsidies, bursaries, and tuition fees, as well as deliver staff support for education planning and navigation.

And our own local hero – The Trevor Linden Foundation, has supported our “High Needs Fund” which supports young people who need help with housing, childcare, technology, and supplies so they can continue with school. Since 2014 Trevor Linden has granted a total of $318,182 to the SEFFY program and this vital fund. Of that amount, $158,000 was given out to 140 students to enable them to participate in learning opportunities that significantly furthered their life goals.

Needless to say, these amazing philanthropists leave big shoes to fill. We ask that you share our stories of success far and wide as we reach out to future donors.  

Last year 176 young people took part in a wide variety of learning opportunities because of you, our generous donors – thank you! 

Supporters large and small – individuals, businesses and charitable foundations – continue to form the foundation of our education program. We deeply appreciate each and every one of you! Please continue to support the brighter futures that learning and education bring.


How else can I help?

There are many ways that you can help make a difference in the lives of the youth and moms we work with.

Get Involved Today

Summer 2022 E-Newsletter

July 7, 2022

Summer 2022 E-Newsletter

Aunt Leah’s is happy to welcome you to our summer e-news for 2022!

This quarter, we’d like to share the wonderful impact of our supporters within the community along with Aunt Leah’s amazing participants.  

Read about Ik Sansar’s inspiring dedication and generosity in their mission to help women and children. And hear the stories of moms in need and foster youth while celebrating the milestones they have achieved during our Award’s Ceremony.

Ik Sansar Foundation

Ik Sansar Foundation’s team; starting from the left: Roman, Sheema, Dal, Justin, Vipran and Roman’s nieces Sadha and Naseeb.

Ik Sansar Foundation and Roman Singh | Donor Profile

 

 

Aunt Leah’s Place thrives because of the thousands of donors and supporters who care about the futures of young people leaving foster care.

 This summer edition of e-news celebrates the generosity of the Ik Sansar Foundation.

 We interviewed Roman Singh who told us about the organization.

Ik Sansar means “one world”, and this not-for-profit organization believes in treating everyone equally and like brothers and sisters.  They dedicate themselves to helping at-risk women and children and indigenous communities. Aunt Leah’s is honoured to partner with this committed organization.

The organization began a few years ago through the goodwill and intention of a small group of friends and family who own and run Vakari Creations furniture company 

They began to support the local community by helping out with Kiwassa Neighbourhood House Youth, starting the Homework Club by providing supplies and sports equipment. Meals for local shelters came next and when the floods hit Abbotsford and the surrounding area they mobilized their team to organize emergency food and supplies and transport them by any way possible to remote areas.

 

Aunt Leah’s benefits enormously from Ik Sansar’s support.  Our Wednesday lunches are now supplied by Ik Sansar and we often receive special deliveries of bulk groceries thanks to their network.  Our young people came out to celebrate  Youth in Care Week a few weeks ago at Central City Fun Park, an awesome event that was made possible with their sponsorship. Everyone loved the mini-golf, bowling, arcade games, and especially rollerskating!

Giving back is important for Roman and friends. Having made the connection to Aunt Leah’s through one of our staff, they are convinced that the young people we serve should have the opportunity to get the education, skills and employment that they need to live successfully.  We couldn’t agree more.  Thanks to everyone at Ik Sansar Foundation!


Celebrating Youth in Care | Youth in Care Week, May 30th – June 3rd 

 

Youth in Care don’t often have many opportunities for celebration; working to finish high school, trying to find housing, and navigating the harsh reality of life after government care, there doesn’t leave much time for celebrations.

 “Aunt Leah’s provided me with the opportunity to be acknowledged for my efforts and passion when I won the Jeremy Wright award for following my bliss in 2016,” says Braydon, a former participant in the Support Link program, and active Link program participant.

This year for the 12th annual BC Youth in Care week, Aunt Leah’s held its 18th annual Youth Awards, celebrating youth in Aunt Leah’s programs, as recipients of four special awards. “Having someone recognize that I had something in my life that I was deeply committed to, and the fact that it showed through my actions, was really important” said Braydon, when asked about being the recipient of his award.

Braydon was in attendance at this year’s awards ceremony, where he was able to once again experience that same joy of the award he received, being given to a new youth who exemplifies those same qualities in following their bliss. With one of Aunt Leah’s core values being “celebration is essential to a successful life”, Aunt Leah’s Youth Awards serves as an annual reminder that just because we might not always feel that life is worth celebrating, or sometimes our achievements feel minuscule, it is still important to remember that we are worth celebrating!

Award Winners 2022

Photo of Aunt Leah’s Youth Award winners: Jason (Jeremy Wright Award), Kaylie (Champion Award), Sim (Leah Award), Andy (Rona Award).

Thank you for Supporting Aunt Leah’s Youth! 

We are so glad that we held our Annual Youth Awards Ceremony in person this year, after having this event online the past two years!

Coming together to commemorate the achievements of four incredible people provided us with an afternoon filled with celebration, laughter, and joy.  At Aunt Leah’s we believe that celebration is essential to a successful life, and we are so incredibly proud of our youth award winners for continuing to grow and shine, despite the challenges they face.  

Thank you to the many supporters and community members who were in attendance, your energy and support made this a successful celebration. For our supporters who were unable to attend, we hope you will join us next year when we celebrate our next group of award winners!


How else can I help?

There are many ways that you can help make a difference in the lives of the youth and moms we work with.

Get Involved Today

Newsletter 2020

June 10, 2022

Inside this issue: In this newsletter, we have five different stories to share including a Partnership Highlight with Aunt Leah’s Foundation, a story from Aunt Leah’s participant Rain, on overcoming obstacles with strength and kindness, a Volunteer Spotlight with Jonathan Lopez, a story about Lale House & Supportive Suites, and a story from a former Aunt Leah’s House participant Diana.

You can read these stories from our 2020 issue below

Newsletter 2019

June 10, 2022

Inside this issue: In this newsletter, we hear from Brendan who is giving youth a voice and more possibilities for the future. “Plates of Possibility is a program run for youth, by youth.” Brendan wants to see more youth contribute their ideas and set them on the path to success. Along with Brendan’s story, our 2019 Newsletter highlights:

  • A Conversation with Barbara Coates (Executive Director) and Tom Littlewood (Program Director) at Dan’s Legacy
  • Donor Spotlight: MNP

Read Issue

Spring 2022 E-Newsletter

April 6, 2022

Spring 2022 E-Newsletter

Welcome to Aunt Leah’s first e-news of 2022!

This quarterly update is meant to share our impact in the community, and introduce you to people in the Aunt Leah’s family. 

Hear how one of our moms found connection and emotional support and now sees ways to give back. Celebrate Founder Gale Stewart’s Good Citizenship Medal and her mission to create Leah’s Legacy. Learn the facts on women and poverty in Canada and how our Thresholds program helps.

Natasha’s Story: Finding Empowerment Through Connection and Support

 

Natasha was a young mom who had just left a bad relationship when she first connected with Aunt Leah’s Place. With Aunt Leah’s help, she was able to find an affordable home with BC Housing. Aunt Leah’s supported her with daycare costs, bus passes, and other expenses to help her to return to school and upgrade her courses.

While the financial support was essential, it was the connection to other young moms that was a real lifeline for Natasha. She immediately joined Aunt Leah’s Mom & Baby Program and found emotional support, community, and mentoring from a group of moms with shared experiences.

It can be lonely being a single mom with young kids but at Aunt Leah’s Natasha now feels part of a family. Her kids love dropping in to a welcoming meeting place where everyone knows them. She is now able to mentor other young moms who are struggling, and one of the things she has learned is that it’s OK to rely on other people.

“I’ve always been kind of stubborn and wanted to do everything on my own, but Aunt Leah’s makes it easy. They are there for you and don’t judge. They try and get you whatever you need from a gym pass to soccer lessons for your kids. It’s like a family.”

Natasha has just completed the Responsible Adult Course, qualifying her to work as a child care assistant. When she starts working, she plans to look for ways she can give continue giving back, and help more mothers and children in crisis.


Gale Stewart awarded BC Good Citizenship Medal – Continues her work through “Leah’s Legacy”

Lesley Anderson, Director of Development, Aunt Leah’s Place

2021 marked the province-wide recognition of Gale Stewart as founder and visionary leader of Aunt Leah’s Place. We’re commemorating this great honour again today because Gale continues her tenacious work to sustain youth at the entry and exit points of the foster care system. 

I met Gale years ago when Aunt Leah’s Independent Lifeskills Society was beginning its journey into social enterprise. Determined to model self-sufficiency, independence and resilience, Gale and her team launched one of the pilot social enterprises in a brand new Enterprising Non-Profits venture.  

As a new Program Manager at Vancity Community Foundation I was learning the ropes of program development and not-for-profit enterprise. Gale stood out to me. Her commitment, passion and never-ending determination to give youth aging out of foster care opportunities to learn and thrive left a lasting impression. Since that time I’ve followed Aunt Leah’s good work and accomplishments in local community forums. When the opportunity to join the organization came my way, I was inspired to offer my services as Director of Development.

Leah’s Legacy is Gale’s new goal and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with her to encourage future gifts for the organization. Many of you have already expressed your intention to leave a bequest to Aunt Leah’s Place. Please accept our deepest thanks. Your foresight and generosity will sustain and grow services for young people in perpetuity. 

As the founder, it seems so fitting that Gale would look to the future and beyond her lifetime for the good of those she has worked for all her life ~ truly a commitment worth recognizing.

“Gale has made a lasting and significant difference in thousands of young people’s lives. She is a source of innovative, compassionate leadership, is a generous leader and role model, and has inspired a legacy of care by building a lasting family and community for those who need it most – youth in and from the foster care system.” 

From the tribute to Gale Stewart, BC Good Citizenship Medal Awards


Did you know? About women and poverty in Canada

1.5 million women live in poverty in Canada.1

10x more women than men have fallen out of the labour force since 2020. 2

Today, nearly half of young Canadians age 20-29 live in their parent’s home 3 

“Every year Aunt Leah’s Thresholds program provides 35 women and children with a safe, secure and supported home so that they will be able to move to independence successfully.”

1Statistics Canada, 2019

2RBC Economics, 2021

3Statistics Canada: Insights on Canadian Society” (2016)


How else can I help?

There are many ways that you can help make a difference in the lives of the youth and moms we work with.

Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund provides $20,000 to Aunt Leah’s Place – Funds will go towards Clinical Counselling Support from Dan’s Legacy Foundation

January 24, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 24, 2022

Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund provides $20,000 to Aunt Leah’s Place

Funds will go towards Clinical Counselling Support from Dan’s Legacy Foundation

NEW WESTMINSTER, BC – Youth in and aging out of foster care will now have improved access to free clinical counselling thanks to a $20,000 Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund grant to Aunt Leah’s Place. The grant will be directed towards expanding the capacity of the counselling program provided by Dan’s Legacy Foundation.

Youth like “Jeremy” who was born into a family with a long history of gang involvement and witnessed horrific violence in his home from the time he was a child. “Jeremy’s” school counsellor referred him to Dan’s Legacy’s counselling program where a therapist helped him learn self-regulation through healthy diet and exercise, which set the foundation to begin trauma counselling. Aunt Leah’s Place then supported “Jeremy” to find housing, which gave him a safe space away from the violence. After a year of trauma counselling “Jeremy” learned how to let go of his rage and focus on building his life. “Jeremy” is now enrolled in university and thrilled at the idea of having so many choices to create his future.

 The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the community’s collective mental health, and for many youth in and from foster care the impact has been especially devastating. Many of these young people, already struggling with mental health issues, are experiencing increased anxiety and depression due to the uncertainty, financial hardship, and isolation created by the pandemic.

“Conditions created by COVID-19 for young people facing mental health challenges necessarily strengthened the partnership between Aunt Leah’s and Dan’s Legacy. By joining forces and with the generous support from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund, we have been able to respond to the need for mental health support by providing immediate crisis care and counselling for youth in and from foster care,” says Sarah Stewart, Executive Director of Aunt Leah’s Place. “This support has been a lifeline for many of our youth.”

“Working as a team with Aunt Leah’s Place over the years has shown how much the community benefits from our combined efforts,” says Barbara Coates, Dan’s Legacy’s executive director. “We’re grateful to the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund for their continued support of our programs, and look forward to more successful health outcomes for our youth clients.”

“Bell Let’s Talk is pleased to support Aunt Leah’s Place as they work with Dan’s Legacy Foundation to expand mental health counselling services for youth in foster care in the Lower Mainland,” says Mary Deacon, Chair of Bell Let’s Talk. “The Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund provides grants to community-based mental health organizations throughout the country, working to expand access to mental health care for more young people close to home through programs like this.”

Bell Let’s Talk Day is January 26

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell donates 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for every applicable text, local or long distance call, tweet or TikTok video using #BellLetsTalk, every Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video, and every use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat lens. All at no cost to participants beyond what they would normally pay their service provider for online or phone access.

Bell Let’s Talk promotes Canadian mental health with national awareness and anti-stigma campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk Day and significant Bell funding of community care and access, research and workplace leadership initiatives throughout the country. To learn more, please visit Bell.ca/LetsTalk.

Youth in need of support are encouraged to contact Aunt Leah’s Place at [email protected], or visit auntleahs.org for more information.

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About Aunt Leah’s Place

Aunt Leah’s Place helps prevent children in foster care from becoming homeless and mothers in need from losing custody of their children. To support them on their journey to self-sufficiency, we provide supported housing, job training, and coaching on essential life skills.

About Dan’s Legacy Foundation

Dan’s Legacy provides therapeutic counselling and life-skills intervention programs to youth affected by trauma-based mental health and addictions issues. In the past year, Dan’s Legacy helped over 400 youth stabilize and begin working towards their educational, employment, and recovery goals.

Media Contacts

Aunt Leah’s Place – Lourdes Perez de Lara, [email protected], 604-2187104

Dan’s Legacy Foundation – Barbara Coates, [email protected], 604-329-9186

 

Aunt Leah’s Foundation Partnership Highlight

October 28, 2021

Aunt Leah’s House

The Next Chapter of a Great Cause

On a spring evening, 33 years ago, I sat at our new, recently purchased family computer. It was called a PC Junior. I was learning the basics of the new technology. Little did I know that this new technological addition would provide an entrance to a new vocation.

I (along with my partner) had been foster parents for nearly a decade and through knowing the kids in our home, I was challenged to find new ways to offer support and stability to these young lives. Many of the teenagers we cared for had already been through 4-10 homes before arriving at our door. Many were indigenous and had lost all connections to family, community, and culture. Their trust had been broken. They were not interested in a new “Mom” or “Dad”. They wanted independence and they needed support.

A friend (who was a Social Worker) told me about a request for proposals for a new government initiative that would provide a licensed facility for foster teen mothers and their babies. These were the Bill Vander Zalm years, a new and colourful premier in provincial politics and considerable buzz around this new proposal.

So I sat at my little PC Junior and wrote from my heart. I spoke of the importance of “beginnings” as it applied to the bonding of mom & baby, of how I would create a home where these young moms could enjoy the comfort of a lovely space, good food, and intimate times with their newborns. The writing was going well. My creative energy was increasing with every page. Then my foot pushed up against a computer cord and the screen went black. I had jarred the cord to the electrical outlet, the proposal had vanished. I don’t remember much of what followed. The warm creative feelings had certainly disappeared. Frustration and anger surfaced and with a “don’t care” attitude I typed feverishly from memory for the next hour. At the end of that hour, I printed the document, placed it in a stamped envelope, and sent it off the next morning.

From late spring to early summer, the proposal was far from my thoughts. I relegated the whole exercise to the bin of activities and efforts that produce little in life. Then in August, I remember the date clearly. On the 8th day of the 8th month in 1988, I received a letter on government letterhead asking me to meet with them to negotiate a contract for the creation of a resource for teen mothers and their babies. To say I was shocked is an understatement but excited yes.

The meetings began and by November a society had been incorporated, a house purchased and $11,000 worth of furnishings had been purchased to fill this new home. The doors would open on January 1st, 1989. The physical work had been completed. Next would come the discussion of the philosophy, vision, and mandate of this new resource. And with that thoughtful work would come the name of the founding program. It would be called Aunt Leah’s House. The name shares a bit of “tongue in cheek”. In my day if a young woman became pregnant (out of wedlock) and her family wanted to save her from the cultural shame then she would be sent off to an “Auntie’s House”.

The name “Leah” was my paternal grandmother. She gave birth twelve times resulting in ten surviving children. Her oldest daughter was also called “Leah” but the nieces and nephews called her Aunt Sis, she neither married nor had children. So the name “Leah” would reflect two paths that the moms we cared for could choose. For many of the moms, we would guide and support their new family into independent living. For the moms, who were not ready for the parenting role, we would support them in choosing an alternate caregiver. Two Leah’s. Two choices for these young moms.

During the three decades of service, we did have one interruption in 2003 when the government contract was cancelled. With the help of the Victoria Foundation and many individual donors, we kept the doors open and for the first time welcomed moms who were over the age of nineteen and in so doing, created a new residential program that today is called “Thresholds”. The cancellation of that contract moved the organization into expansion and today two additional homes for vulnerable moms are included in Aunt Leah’s service. It seemed so risky back then – so scary to trust our supporters to provide the funding we would need to continue the Aunt Leah’s House. In the following years, the government did approach us again, asked us to sign a new contract and the younger teen foster moms became residents again at the Aunt Leah’s House.

Thirty-three years later and at the time of writing our resilience as caregivers is being tested again. During 2020 the challenge of the pandemic restrictions and protocols limited the number of moms we could accommodate in an aging house. Repairs and maintenance costs increased to the point where the board had to make a decision to build a new “Aunt Leah’s House” to provide an updated beautiful space for our moms and their children. Added to these strains, in the fall of 2020, Government shared that they no longer required a residential program for teen mothers.

Thanks to the funding with Reaching Home Canada and the Emergency Community Support Fund through Community Foundations of Canada we were able to quickly shift our service to provide safe and supportive housing to families on our waitlist for our Thresholds Program. Families who were struggling in the middle of a pandemic to be safe and secure. Families already being pushed to the margins of society by existing systems were pushed further to the margins by COVID. We were able to provide a safe caring home for them.

We have begun our first-ever Capital Fundraising Campaign to build the new “Aunt Leah’s House”. The new home will have four bedrooms with attached bathrooms, a large training kitchen, more office space, and a second stage self-contained suite that a mom can graduate into. Once again we will need some help but this time with a financial cushion in place. Together we will continue to provide comfortable beginnings for vulnerable moms and babies. We will help re-unite grandparents, aunts, and uncles and in so doing keep families together.

Article By: Gale Stewart, Aunt Leah’s Founder and 2021 B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship Award Recipient

Be a part of building the next Aunt Leah’s House by contributing to Aunt Leah’s Foundation’s Campaign.

Learn more at: trellis.org/rebuild-aunt-leahs-house

Rain’s Story

October 28, 2021

Rain’s Story: Overcoming Obstacles with Strength and Kindness

In a time where bright spots have been hard to find, we shine a light on one of Aunt Leah’s participants, Rain. Rain has been connected to Aunt Leah’s since 2019 when they joined Aunt Leah’s Branches AYA Life Skills program. While attending Aunt Leah’s Branches AYA Life Skills Program, Rain has been supported to go back to school where they were able to complete security training courses, which helped Rain get closer to finding employment. Rain was also a participant in Aunt Leah’s Bootstraps program, where they were focused on building employment skills and finding sustainable employment. Rain had been working as a security guard before the pandemic, but when the pandemic hit, they were laid off. “I was working 60-70 hours a week around the time that Covid first started—and I moved out on my own” they said. After Rain was laid off from work and doing their best to survive during the pandemic, Rain’s housing situation fell apart, and they were evicted. “I now have a little garden space and my one bedroom all for under $1000 a month, which I found on my own by looking on Craigslist.” “I ended up seeing what I could find, and found this place that I’m in now”.

Rain has once again been involved with AYA Branches, this time, taking part in the Intro to Cook Training Program through Dan’s Legacy. Rain says “Someone really important to me told me that food brings people together—I enjoy being able to bring people together with food, because everyone is always hungry.” When asked what Rain finds most beneficial with Branches – Agreements with Young Adults Program at Aunt Leah’s, they said “With work not being as available in my industry, the fact that I’m still able to pay my rent and do what I need to… specifically with the AYA it’s nice not having to worry where my next cheque will come from, I don’t necessarily need to have all my bases covered.” With Rain’s participation in Aunt Leah’s Branches AYA Life Skills Program, they’re able to receive funding which aims to cover living expenses for the duration of their time in programming. By being part of Branches, Rain has been able to focus on their studies and training, they said, “I don’t need to worry about having my rent paid, that’s my main concern, I have a lot of animals and I don’t want to have to worry about having to rehome them.” Rain’s current goal is to take the Professional Cook Level 1 program at VCC, in order for them to take another step toward their professional cooking career. Rain says “It’s really important for me to continue to do that and to strengthen my skills to get into cooking.” When asked about other goals Rain has for the future, they said “I guess one of my other goals is to just volunteer more time, I try to be as active in the community as I can, and I know with COVID, a lot more people need support”.

Rain has a long history of giving back to the community. They started volunteering when they were 14 years old, with local organization Fostering Change. Rain spent 8 years volunteering with Fostering Change, taking part in youth homelessness initiatives, “I took a year or so off from volunteering as I was homeless at the time and was trying to figure out what I could do”, says Rain. They became connected with Aunt Leah’s and shortly thereafter, began volunteering their time both before and during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Rain says “I helped out with Plates of Possibility, I helped out with co-facilitating a painting workshop for Essential Skills Workshops and sorting food and packing bags for the food pick up.” Sarah, Rain’s support worker mentions, “Rain did most of the work to make the meal for one of the Plates of Possibility events and assisted with cleanup. Rain also helped with warehouse deliveries and furniture pick-ups with the donations driver at Aunt Leah’s Thrift.”

In 2020, Rain received the “Leah Award” at Aunt Leah’s annual youth awards, which are given out to current/former youth in our programs. The “Leah Award” goes to a youth who represents unconditional love and support. The award was created in honor of long-time friend and supporter of Aunt Leah’s, Bruce Ambrose. Sarah mentions, “Rain is the first non-mother, non-female, to earn the Leah award.” When asked how receiving this award felt, Rain says, “I still don’t know why I won the award; I was just being myself and I was just supporting Aunt Leah’s because they were supporting me and helping me… to this day I’m still shocked.” Sarah, who was the one to put Rain’s name forward for the award, says, “Rain’s ability to overcome and rise up is exceptional”. Rain says, “I don’t get a lot of recognition for the stuff I do, and I don’t need that recognition, but it’s just I didn’t realize that going and doing the things I love doing, giving my time freely without the expectation of getting anything back, I didn’t recognize that as being unconditional love and support for Aunt Leah’s. Seeing my picture at the office I’m like “hey that’s right I did that!” Rain truly does give their time freely and generously, with no expectation or reservation. Their positivity and support of the people in their life and community, will continue to warm hearts and make a positive impact in the lives of those around them. Aunt Leah’s Place is proud to have Rain as a member of our community, and we cannot wait to see what is in store for them for the future.

Article By: Braydon Chapelas

Fall 2021 Newsletter

October 26, 2021

Inside this issue: In this newsletter, hear how one of our participants has continued with their life skills during the pandemic. You will also find a partnership highlight with Aunt Leah’s Foundation as they begin construction on the newest chapter of Aunt Leah’s House.

Our 2021 Fall Newsletter Stories: