At eight years old, I stood at the front door and watched as my father opened the trunk of his car to take out a Nintendo game system. At that moment, I had no idea how many hours of game time I’d put into the system, but I was excited nonetheless. I watched my father hook up the game system to the television and with one button, the stages of my life were set.

My childhood was sprinkled with hours of game play in front of the television, continued through my adolescent years and is still a part of my life today. Studies have shown the benefits of gaming while critics of gaming have made an equally valid position on the negative effects gaming has on young gamers.

Video game consoles have advanced dramatically since its original inception. Sitting down and playing a game of Super Mario Bros. brings back many happy memories of my childhood, and seeing the ability game consoles have to get people off their feet to play games, brings a whole new meaning to gaming and another reason to keep playing.

Child’s Play Charity takes what I experienced as a child and gives it to sick children in hospitals. Making a donation to the charity means giving children a chance to be children. Donations can be made several ways but I love that you can buy a toy or game from a wish list set up on Amazon.ca and it gets shipped directly to the hospital that you choose in your area.

Live.Love.Laugh. Laugh at least once a day. The Vancouver Laughter Mission Society does exactly that, with a mission to make the sick and terminally ill laugh and promote well being. They provide a variety of professional entertainers to registered non-profit organizations from emcees, improv artists and singers to jugglers and clowns. Services include:

  • Comedic entertainment for the terminally and seriously ill and their caregivers
  • Skill-building training and workshops with a comedic approach for healthcare organizations and providers
  • Comedic entertainment to support the fundraising efforts of healthcare-related charities

Research has shown that laughter boosts the immune system, increases hope and self-worth, and protects against heart disease.

Make someone laugh today.

The Power of Love

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Carla, the Supervisor for Burnaby Family Life’s Young Parent Program at Burnaby South Secondary School. Carla has been the Supervisor of the Young Parent Program for eight years and liaises between the childcare, high school education and lifeskills components of the program. Between her, a youth worker, two teachers and several daycare staff, they run the program for young parents that is constantly adapting to meet individual needs. Carla also manages the operation itself and advocates for youth and clients alike.

Young Parent Program

YPP staff and childThe Young Parent Program (YPP) is designed so that young parents can attend classes while their children are being watched in daycare just steps away, making it easy for young moms to see their children during the day. Young parents have to be enrolled in the YPP in order to have their child enrolled in daycare. Their schedule is flexible in the sense that they have the option to go through regular classes and take electives, but also stay in a teen parenting room and work on other subjects if it gets too hard. There have been times when a child gets sick which prevents the parent from attending classes, thereby disrupting their routine. The program has adapted to this by acknowledging that young parents have more success when they can work at their own pace.

Daycare children playingCurrently, the program takes in children from as young as eight weeks to three years. If these young moms graduate from the program and decide to upgrade their schooling, the program still considers them as a young parent and can still provide daycare for their child. If they choose to attend post-secondary, they are considered within the “community” group and new rules apply for subsidy reasons. Another Burnaby Family Life (BFL) program at Morley Elementary school provides daycare for children ages three to five and designates four spaces for former YPP participants. Carla says she would love to see the daycare expand so they could support more children, specifically older age groups.

Resources

The YPP is not just a daycare and schooling program for young moms, it’s also a resource centre for all kinds of requests. When asked about what resources are available, Carla was quick to tell me that help is given on an individual basis and when requests arise, she will try to find a resource in-house or will offer outside help if needed. Carla says they are always keeping up with individual needs on a day-to-day basis. Within the school itself, young moms are able to connect with community support.

Recently, a garden was donated to the daycare in the hopes of involving young moms in growing healthy, fresh food and to show them the benefits of growing their own food. To read more about the garden, local newspaper Burnaby NOW, has written an article about it here: http://www.burnabynow.com/life/Teaching+garden+opens/3260447/story.html

Inspiration

It’s hard enough going to school as a teenager, but when a young mom comes through the door early with a smile on her face, Carla thinks, “Wow, she did it again.” Carla says it’s inspirational when you see the attachment happening and the little family unit growing.

Inspiration comes in many forms and is seen daily by Carla and the staff. One past student who graduated from the YPP continued on to post-secondary school and ended up working for a local credit union. She then came back and donated to the program. Another student learned sign language while going through the YPP and now wants to be an interpreter. There have been lots of successful students who come through the YPP and are great examples to students currently in the program.

Help with homelessness

There’s always more that someone in Carla’s capacity wants to do and for her, it’s helping with homelessness. The program currently does not have many cases of homelessness but it was an issue a couple years ago. Finding homes for teens with children was difficult and Carla looked into the idea of starting a home, similar to temporary housing, but there were no funds for it and it’s wasn’t in BFL’s mandate to focus on housing. Fortunately, through much hard work and time, the program has been successful in helping their clients overcome homelessness.

Power of love

Thinking back to my teenage years, I can’t imagine caring for a young child as I could barely take care of myself. This is where Carla tells me to never underestimate the power of love, even if it’s a 15-year-old’s love for their child. Unplanned pregnancies happen but we, as a society, need to acknowledge that we can help teenage moms get the skills they need, while programs like the YPP, care for their children. In the long run, the hope is to help teenage moms become successful and productive members of society and in turn, their children can strive for the same and better.

Donations

It was amazing to hear that the daycare provides breakfast, lunch snacks, and access to donations whenever young parents are in need. Carla has direct contact with the Christmas Bureau and often seeks daily living necessities for parents. Donations have been made by community parents as well, but Carla says they are always open to receiving donations, especially diapers of all sizes as these get expensive for the young moms.

Pro Organics donates to the program’s Christmas party and the great thing is, the girls get to go home with bags of produce: enough for the two weeks that the daycare is closed.

Carla says they also get funding from the Food First initiative in Burnaby, where girls learn how to cook nutritious, low-budget meals in the classroom, get to eat them and go home with enough ingredients to duplicate the recipe for their families.

Other generous donations have been made by Telus for the girls to enjoy the things that their peers enjoy. Carla recalls one year where Telus donated their box suite at GM Place (now, Rogers Arena) for the girls to see teenage pop sensation Avril Lavigne in concert. Carla says the girls were thrilled and fully enjoyed themselves.

Carla points out that donations and volunteers are always needed. Donations can be made by contacting Carla at 604-257-4465. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Claire Chiang, Coordinator of Volunteers at 604-312-3243 or e-mail cchiang@burnabyfamilylife.org. The daycare always needs extra support with the children.

Since the first day I met Jeanne Fike, Executive Director of Burnaby Family Life (BFL), I found her to be such a passionate connector. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanne at BFL to find out just what makes BFL the organization that is defining Burnaby’s social services sector.

Our conversation started with how BFL planted its roots in Burnaby and is continuing to grow. Jeanne was pregnant when she joined the  STEP program which is still one of the core programs at BFL.  In a very grassroots way, she enrolled in leadership training, volunteered and started everything by trying. BFL applied for grants from the government and has been receiving them since 1972. Since the beginning, BFL has been responding to the needs of the community and has done so by partnering with the school district, health region and other organizations. Partnerships are a great way to bring the community what they need but the constant struggle that Jeanne faces is that most, if not all, organizations apply for the same government funding, making it very difficult for these service providers to comprehensively serve the community.

Jeanne’s professional and personal spheres depict a life of fulfillment and contribution.  She’s passionate about Burnaby’s diversity and loves meeting people. In fact, she’s traveled to 48 different countries, mostly developing countries, and she‘s proud that BFL’s employees collectively speak 40 different languages. The highlight of her professional life is working with immigrants and refugees. This ignited a memory we both had of the time the Burnaby Board of Trade hosted an immigrant integration forum and tour that sparked the social consciousness of the business community. The tour brought 10 CEOs to BFL and helped make doors open while Jeanne witnessed resilience and human potential in overcoming adversity. (To find out more about this amazing initiative, visit the BBOT’s website.)

When asked her how she stays connected given her busy lifestyle, she stressed the importance of her relationships and that she loves staying connected through technology especially her Blackberry, while email and entertaining at her home come in a close second. She believes that everyone has a purpose and that she was meant to connect people and it helps that it’s a true passion of hers.

Another way she stays connected and promotes connections is through the programs at BFL. The programs facilitate the strengths of others through sharing stories and mutual support. Jeanne revels at how the programs are like an entity in themselves and is amazed at how they transform people and give people the tools they need to succeed in life.

When asked to describe a personal and special connection with someone in the community, Jeanne was quick to name Darlene Gering, President & CEO of the BBOT.  Jeanne considers Darlene a passionate ally in the business sector; a sector that BFL doesn’t usually have as much access to.  Darlene pushes BFL to set the business case for its programs and to push for funding by showing the value of its programs to the local community.

Business and social sustainability haven’t always gone hand in hand and as Jeanne admits, identifying with the business sector has been a new experience.

As the Communications Intern for the Burnaby Board of Trade, I had the opportunity to explore businesses and organizations within the Greater Vancouver area and understand the complexities of social development faced by non-profit organizations. I was excited to be a part of conversations surrounding the business case for homelessness, social development and immigrant integration. This is where I met Jeanne, who is an active member of the BBOT and is involved in the Social Development Committee that the BBOT hosts.

With all of Jeanne’s experiences and stories, what was her message to the readers? Pay it forward. Recognize all that you have and be purposeful about making a difference.  Know how much it means to somebody to be recognized for who they are and what they are doing. Suspend judgment. Be kind.

Burnaby Family life has been featured in local newspapers BurnabyNOW and Burnaby Newsleader.

About a month ago, I adopted a cat into our family. He comes with quite a history – 4 wives and 17 kids…and he’s only a year old. The cat orphanage, VOKRA, was so easy to deal with or rather, I should say that our cat’s foster momma was excellent. She introduced us to our cat in her humble home and after a couple weeks, the paper work was completed and we were on our way. I’m happy about adopting from an organization that rescues and cares for cats very personally.

UPDATE: Oxfam Canada is collecting e-signatures for a petition calling on leaders to cancel the country’s debt so they can focus on re-building their country, rather than re-paying debt. This petition also is insisting that the Haitian society play a leadership role in their own reconstruction.

Please sign here and pass it on!

As the situation in Haiti develops, more and more organizations are urging the public to donate to this unexpected emergency.  There are many great organizations out there specializing in different causes and I seem to be drawn to organizations that focus on Women and Children’s issues, but I don’t discriminate when it comes to humanitarian aid.

I’d like to draw your attention to the following Canadian organizations accepting donations that focus on Women and Children’s needs and issues:

UNICEF Canada

Save the Children

CARE Canada

Oxfam Canada

Another great organization that provides food and relief:

Canadian Red Cross

I encourage you to research into other local non-profit organizations that support what you believe in.  We also have to consider that while donations help short-term needs such as clean water supplies and medical aid, organizations and governments need to consider long-term goals in order to see major development in Haiti.  As in any situation, long-term goals include considerations for re-constructing homes, buildings, farm lands, and other essential services.

Recently, I have been searching the Vancouver SPCA and Burnaby SPCA to add another feline member to our family.  Why did we choose to adopt, rather than find another Chinchilla Persian (pictured above) from a breeder?  We wanted to support the shelters that are protecting animals from cruelty and give a kitty a new home.  Then I came across the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue and am considering adopting from this non-profit organization.  They have a “no-kill” policy despite their huge gallery of cats and kittens needing homes, but they are able to uphold this policy thanks to foster homes willing to take in kittens and cats until they are chosen for adoption.  If you live in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, consider adopting from Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue or other shelters.

It was the year 2003 and I just finished my undergraduate degree in Sociology and Political Science.  I was excited about what this knowledge could do for me.  After many conversations about my career options with family and friends, I decided to dig out my roots from Vancouver, Canada and plant them in Takamatsu, Japan.  What I didn’t know just yet, was how much a culture and community could teach and enlighten me.

Ritsurin Park, Takamatsu, Japan

The city of Takamatsu was really good to me.  I was able to learn and grow from the cultural and social experiences that I never would have encountered in school.  I came back to Vancouver feeling empowered and armed with a new perspective, and I found myself advocating to friends and strangers alike, the need to travel, re-locate, and discover new cultures.

Whether it’s across the world or across town, I truly believe that experiencing a different culture is necessary in every person’s development.  For me, I was enlightened by Japanese social norms, treated to decadent seafood meals, and I brought home a fresh perspective on life and society.  Learning about others taught me to never stop learning about myself.

So what does this have to do with the Katimavik organization?

I wish I discovered Katimavik when I was 21. Katimavik is a fascinating organization that I feel epitomizes my being and beliefs.  Katimavik claims that a one year gap between highschool and post-secondary is beneficial for youth to discover more about themselves.  The organization runs programs that allow youth to become actively involved in communities across Canada, while discovering themselves by immersing in another culture.

This is how Katimavik describes one of its programs, “Get a Life“:  “It addresses the need for young people to look beyond themselves and their immediate surroundings and to become active players in the social and economic development of Canadian society.”

Katimavik’s Mission and Objectives:

Mission

Katimavik is a national volunteer service organization that aims to empower youth to make a significant contribution to local communities and participate in nation-building while fostering their personal and professional development through a challenging youth-volunteer, leadership and service-learning program.

Objectives

  • To contribute substantially to the  personal, social and professional development of the participants.
  • To promote community service.
  • To offer a diverse experience fostering a better understanding of the Canadian reality.

What an excellent way to get to know the country we live in, give back to communities, and get to know ourselves in the process! If you just finished highschool, I encourage you to “Get a Life”!

The reason why I’ve chosen a well-known NGO to highlight is because I had the opportunity to work for UNICEF and gained insight into the organization’s goals and international projects.  It’s amazing how powerful an organization can be in advocating for children and their rights.

Communication for Development” (C4D) is one of many programs run by UNICEF.  This one caught my attention because of how it runs.  It reminds me of a grass-roots development approach where a community works towards self-sustainability by using local resources to address issues of that specific community.

UNICEF describes the C4D programme as ” a systematic, planned and evidence-based strategic process to promote positive and measurable individual behaviour and social change that is an integral part of development programmes, policy advocacy and humanitarian work. C4D uses dialogue and consultation with, and participation of children, their families and communities. It privileges local contexts and relies on a mix of communication tools, channels and approaches.”

Here are some quick facts about UNICEF that can also be found on their website.

UNICEF: United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

*UNICEF has direct working relations with government ministries, community leaders and policy makers in more than 155 countries and territories.

*[T]hree million fewer children under five die each year than 10 years ago and 50 million more children are enrolled in primary school than in 1990.

*Guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF believes that the survival, protection and development of children must be a global priority, and that every child has the right to health, education, equality and protection.

*UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, foundations, businesses and governments.”

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