Summer 2023 E-Newsletter
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grand Re-Opening of Aunt Leah’s House
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spring 2023 E-Newsletter
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
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.”
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.”
“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
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.”
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.
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
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
Aunt Leah’s Foundation Partnership Highlight
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: 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
Volunteer Spotlight: Jonathan Lopez
The Power of Transformative Education
Once a week, Jonathan Lopez takes a pause from his project support position at the UBC’s Office of the Provost and is an Aunt Leah’s Place teacher with our Supporting Education For Foster Youth (SEFFY) program. SEFFY’s mission is to support long-term education planning for foster youth and former foster youth in care, primarily between the ages of 16 to 24. He works in partnership with foster youth and other caring professionals in their lives to promote education permanency, with specific focuses on advocacy, resources, reducing barriers and career planning.
A year and a half ago, when Jonathan came on board as a teacher, he initially thought that he was going to teach Math, English and get students to post-secondary education. His work has proved to be infinitely more profound. “I’ve come to understand it as trying to demystify the post-secondary landscape to youth who don’t really have support otherwise.” Jonathan helps them understand what these sorts of things mean in their academic trajectories, in their lives and help make it less scary.
Jonathan came to Aunt Leah’s Place through Frontier College, a national charitable literacy organization that works with volunteers and community partners to give people the skills and confidence they need to reach their potential and contribute to society. He was put in contact with staff from the SEFFY program. What drew him to the role, was helping participants move into the next chapter of their life and how pivotal of a time it is. It was a very unique fit Jonathan explains, “because of my experience transition from secondary to post-secondary education and all the associated questions that come with the uncertainty of making a big life decision.” Jonathan is usually the final step in a long process that the participants have invested in.
“I often see participants after they’ve gone through all the other services they have at Aunt Leah’s Place. That is, they are positive they have secure housing, they have food security, they have all that stuff, and now they can think about education, so I really do need to thank [Aunt Leah’s Place] for putting participants in the position to seek out this kind of help.”
What does learning with Jonathan look like?
What does learning with Jonathan look like?
Jonathan is tasked with making learning exciting and accessible. “If they see me getting excited about , I hope to project this upon them and to show them that this stuff may not be as fun as video game, it’s certainly interesting.” He has to ensure that he’s engaging participants so that they can get the most out of the program. “I try my hardest to try to make the content relevant to the students to make it not some sort of esoteric or arcane knowledge that’s just a hoop for to jump through.”
Jonathan hopes to empower participants through education and . He’s pleased that there are support mechanisms to make education accessible our provincial government extend tuition waivers. He works with students to build confidence in their abilities. Often participants have an ingrained belief that they aren’t smart. The traditional educational system has often been harmful because it leaves them underserved. Participants can feel they didn’t succeed because of a personal failing. Jonathan is firm that “they are perfectly bright youth, but they’ve had a really hard time.” He recalled sitting with a student teaching math and recognizing the problem immediately. Her reply was, I guess I’m not dumb.” Jonathan was overcome with emotion, “I almost started crying…because she had confidence.” This student was always told she was bad at math, but she clearly wasn’t. “At the end of the day, I didn’t really care that she understood the Pythagorean theorem, but her understanding that she can learn things in her life, that is what I think transformative education is. That’s real.”
Has participating in this program transformed Jonathan?
For Jonathan, change in the classroom works both ways, “It’s massively changed how I approach teaching…I very often have to employ adaptive teaching, I try to relate the material to more so than I would in any other context. Jonathan has learned as well to appreciate and approach each student more holistically to accomplish transformative learning. “This can be as small as hey this student hasn’t slept well in the past couple of days. She wants to work on stuff, but keep that in mind before going on with the lesson. There are other priorities here.”
When asked about why he thinks it is important to volunteer, Jonathan says “I remember when I was young, I had a very idealistic worldview. We need to change the system. And I found out I don’t need anyone’s permission to change stuff. I can make small changes in the things that I do every day. So that i this.”
During COVID19, Frontier College is working with Aunt Leah’s to provide an online platform that allows students to continue working together on their educational goals with Jonathan’s invaluable support.
Special thanks to storyteller and writer, Tami Gabay for volunteering her time and talent to write this story.
Lale House & Supportive Suites
The Art of Giving
“A house is made with walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is Lale House?
Lale House is an important program that provides affordable communal housing for young adults 19 to 28 who have aged out of foster care, and are currently homeless or at risk of being without a home. Finding safe and budget-sensitive accommodations in the Lower Mainland is exceptionally challenging anytime of the year, but is even more critical at a time like this, when there is a pandemic that is creating a lot of anxiety and a much more uncertain economic future for these young adults.
Lale House is more than just giving a place to live and take shelter. It’s the realized dream of two local philanthropists to provide housing for homeless youth. (They choose to be mentioned as LD and PD). LD explained, the couple having two children of their own, they wish for all young people to have environments of safety, caring and support to grow up in, just as their own kids had. Over the years, LD had read and heard about Aunt Leah’s work which she found very meaningful and wanted to contribute to it. She had the idea that she could own a principal property and offer the use of it to a charity such as Aunt Leah’s. LD elaborated, “I had some money in the bank but having it just sit there did not contribute to my sense of happiness. I believe that money is some kind of energy and I would like that energy to be in service of something meaningful. Ideally the energy would support the well-being of others. I think that’s it: I wanted the money, instead of sitting idly in the bank, to serve by actively contributing to somebody’s well-being.”
How did you partner with Aunt Leah’s Place to find Lale House?
LD was motivated by a sense of equality, saying, “In a society that I would call wealthy compared to the rest of the world, to see people who don’t have homes, I find that really, really heartbreaking.” She and her husband set out to address this dilemma because of a feeling of societal responsibility. “To be quite honest, I feel it’s our social duty. We have a comfortable home, and why shouldn’t some less fortunate young people have access to decent accommodations as well.” For her, the social contract is obvious. “As a human, I believe we have a responsibility to other humans as well. Making a house available to some young people who don’t have housing, to help them become independent and support them in their growth, really makes me happy.” LD expressed her gratitude to Aunt Leah’s for providing her and her husband with the opportunity to make their idea a reality, describing how they worked with Executive Director Sarah Stewart, who was incredibly supportive in guiding the process from recommending what kind of home would be best, to attending open houses, providing feedback, establishing an agreement and then finally finding a mutually acceptable and suitable home. “She made the whole process very easy. Giving has proven to be a win-win situation as Aunt Leah’s has also taken away all our concerns about having to look after and manage a house. We provided the house and Aunt Leah’s looks after all the rest, such as insurance, taxes, maintenance, etc.”
In April 2019, the right house was found to provide a home for five young adults in search of independence.
What can Lale House offer participants?
Those who have been formerly youth in care, often find it more challenging to go immediately into a fully self-sufficient life. Like the other programs at Aunt Leah’s Place, Lale House follows a family model, where young adult individuals who may not always be ready to be out on their own can get support in a safe and comfortable environment. The setting is intended to be used as a transition platform where participants can obtain the skills or training they need to become fully independent. Aware that participants needed varying levels of support, Lale House was designed accordingly. The home is a single-detached, newly renovated, home with five bedrooms in New Westminster. It’s fully furnished and located for easy access to transit. As an extension to Lale House, when participants are ready to live independently, they can move to one of two private supported suites that have been modelled after Aunt Leah’s Support Link suites. Each suite has a landlord living upstairs and Aunt Leah’s staff do periodic check-ins to ensure a smooth transition.
For LD her dreams for the participants are simple, “My hope would be that these young people would be able to get an education, find a job and eventually become self-reliant. This, I hope, will give them a better chance for a better, happier, independent life.”
“My hopes would be that they find some education, find a job, and find a life that will be satisfactory to them, that it’s going to be a good life. That they can become independent.”
At Lale House, participants work one-on-one with a care worker and get directed to the programs that are the most appropriate for their needs and aspirations. Such programs include life skills, mental health counselling, as well as education and employment support. They also receive bus tickets, passes to the gym, and there are recreational activities planned for everyone to participate.
For LD & PD it boils down to this: “We were very happy when Sarah informed us that one person already left the house because he had graduated and was now ready to live on his own. News like this give us way more satisfaction than a bank-statement showing our assets ever could.”
However, parenting is difficult at the best of times, and all the more as the coronavirus pandemic leads to shutdowns and all Canadians are asked to practise social distancing. Many young people who might otherwise be out with friends, at school, or playing sports now find themselves having to isolate at home. Particularly difficult is the fact that some do not see the novel coronavirus as a threat to their own health and well- being and find it difficult to follow the rules.
The young people living at the house are no different and Aunt Leah’s staff is having to adjust, like every other parent, to ensure that their mental and physical well-being are not compromised. This also means being creative to meet them where they are and relaxing the expectations on educational and job training goals.
And while the plans to go to an escape room, go-karting, or wall climbing with the housemates will have to wait, the good news for this bunch, is that thanks to the generosity of LD &PD who have provided the house and to all donors who support our programs, these young adults will have continuous support until the world is at a better place and they are ready to pursue their dreams and goals on their own.
Photo: Tania Rowland, Program Coordinator outside of Lale House
Special thanks to storyteller and writer, Tami Gabay for volunteering her time and talent to write this story.
Dianna is a former Aunt Leah’s Place participant, who is now living independently with her son Adrian, and is a real success story. In 2011, she came to Aunt Leah’s House as a single teen mother with her six-month-old baby boy. It was a big transition, “It was a new experience living here with staff and other moms 24/7. I liked it because there was help when I needed it and just being around people that are in the same situation. Single mom. Teenager.” At Aunt Leah’s, Dianna was able to get help with important supports like having staff watch her son, if she needed a break . Dianna also was able to get support to learn how to be a mom and learn life skills, such as learning how to cook and clean . There were also moments of celebration, “Christmas, Easter, all those were fun. Mother’s Day, Halloween, all the moms would come here and past moms – we can all connect.”
Coming to Aunt Leah’s proved to be a turning point for Dianna. As she was able to get the support she needed to move forward. “They were able to help me get back into school. They were encouraging and supportive, and I guess helped me become a better mom with all the stuff they do.” Dianna was committed to building a strong foundation with the daily juggle of taking her son to daycare, attending young parent programs, learning life skills, and just being a parent and taking care of her son. It paid off because she graduated. Dianna recalls how the staff at Aunt Leah’s were invaluable. And what Dianna found most surprising, were all the supports that were available to her and the funding she could access through Aunt Leah’s Place. “I was able to sign my son up for soccer camp and one time I received a gym pass for a year.”
Dianna’s hard work was recognized, winning the Leah Award, which included an education bursary and a laptop. By the age of 18, she moved out, but it was not an entirely smooth transition.
“I thought it was going to be easy, but it was harder.” It has been a slow process, but Dianna says there was light at the end of the tunnel. Dianna’s son Adrian is now flourishing and he is currently attending French immersion school, participating in soccer, and is growing to become a thoughtful person who is her pride and joy. “He’s really hard working. He doesn’t want to fail at anything, so he tries his best, and I have to remind myself to be patient…. He reminds me that life is great.”
Dianna is independent and thriving but remains connected to Aunt Leah’s saying, “Well, everyone who works with Aunt Leah’s is positive and supportive. It’s really supportive, and the environment is really welcoming and warm. I continue to come because it’s a family.” Dianna does not have immediate family living in the province and Aunt Leah’s family model has been instrumental in letting her know she has someone here for her. “If I ever need anything, I can ask.”
“Well, everyone who works with Aunt Leah’s is positive and supportive. It’s really supportive, and the environment is really welcoming and warm. I continue to come because it’s a family.”
Now Dianna is looking at the next chapter with big goals as she is finishing her education requirements. “Education assistant, that’s my goal this year. I think I will finish upgrading by July, and then I can finally start my dreams of being an education assistant.” Dianna is also volunteering twice a week at a kids club, attends Aunt Leah’s on Tuesday’s Cooking club and is primed to become a mentor and role model showing participants what their future can be. Dianna explains, “I want to help young moms too because I’ve been there…I understand.” In the next ten years, Dianna hopes to help children and families by becoming a social worker and giving back, saying, “Hey, maybe I can work at Aunt Leah’s too.”
Special thanks to storyteller and writer, Tami Gabay for volunteering her time and talent to write this story.
Inside this issue: In this newsletter, we share with you Devon’s success story and the importance of food security programs. You will also find an interview to Martha, a former youth from care that will change and enrich your perspective on youth from care.
Our 2018 Spring Newsletter Stories:
- Devon’s Story – Helping Youth Secure Their Next Meal
- There Isn’t Just One Narrative of Foster Care – A Conversation with Martha (Youth From Care)
- Funder Spotlight: Central City Foundation
Newsletter Spring 2017
Inside this issue: In this newsletter, we show how your support helped Desiree find a great career. Desiree’s story reminds us what happens when we surround young people with support and encourage them to pursue their goals. Along with Desiree’s story, our 2017 Spring Newsletter highlights:
- A Conversation with Gale Stewart, Aunt Leah’s Founder
- Celebrating The Links 10th Anniversary
- Donor Spotlight: John Hardie Mitchell Family Foundation
Newsletter Spring 2016
Inside this issue: In this newsletter we recognize Jason Preece, president of our Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), Peer Specialist at Aunt Leah’s Place, and Advocate for foster children. His story and his leadership are truly inspiring. Jason demonstrates what happens when we encourage young people to be healthy and strong. Along with Jason’s story, our March Newsletter highlights:
- The YAC’s unforgettable Canoe Journey
- Aunt Leah’s Trees 2015 record breaking year of sales!
- The Friendly Landlord Network, our new collaborative housing initiative
Newsletter Spring 2015
Inside this issue: We highlight Andii’s experience and the difficulties of aging out of care. Along with Andii’s story, our 2015 Spring Newsletter highlights:
- The Link: Housing First
- Volunteer Highlight: Eva
- Essential Skills Weekly Program
- Avoiding the Precipice: A UVIC Study
Newsletter Spring 2014
Inside this issue: We highlight Shaelyn’s story of courage and growth. Along with Shaelyn’s story, our 2014 Spring Newsletter highlights:
- Volunteer & Donor Spotlight: Bridget’s Story
- An exciting move to a new home
- SEFFY: Equipping foster youth for postsecondary education
Newsletter Fall 2013
Inside this issue: We highlight Tammy’s story of growth and support. Along with Tammy’s story, our 2013 Fall Newsletter highlights:
- Celebrating 25 years of Aunt Leah’s Place
- The Support Link – Equipping Youth for Their Future
- Nathan’s Story
- Aunt Leah’s Place chosen as a “Top Pick” by Charity Intelligence!
Newsletter Spring 2013
Inside this issue: We highlight Chelsea’s story of hope and independence. Along with Chelsea’s story, our 2013 Spring Newsletter highlights:
- Anne, Jim, and Aunt Leah’s Place: A partnership that will last a lifetime
- How Retail Training equips youth for success
- A Year at Aunt Leah’s Place: Linking Youth with Success