A place to belong
Cecilia and Elizabeth have been long-time members of SHARE’s “Seniors Supporting Seniors” group – a social group that meets once a month for friendship, support and activities. The ladies describe the group as a place where seniors meet to share ideas, give out hugs and get excited about projects. It’s a place that brings people together.
Cecilia and Elizabeth have made it their mission to get more seniors to join, particularly newcomers, as they both know firsthand what it means to be new to the community.
When Cecilia arrived from Holland, she couldn’t speak any English. “Everything was big and overwhelming,” she says. “So I know what it feels like.” So when Cecilia met Amineh in the group, she didn’t let the language barrier stop her from making friends with her neighbour. When she learned that Amineh didn’t know how to cook with peanut butter, she quickly made a batch of peanut butter cookies for her to try, and sent her home with recipes. They now meet outside the group having tea at each other’s homes and communicating with their hands.
Elizabeth also relates well to the experiences of newcomers. “Sometimes I feel left out, but I feel at home at SHARE” says Elizabeth, who emigrated from Fiji. “You’re not ignored. You feel like you belong.” One day, when Elizabeth met a lady in her neighbourhood walking alone in grief, she immediately invited her to the “Seniors Supporting Seniors” group.
Marie was walking home after visiting her late husband’s grave when she was approached by Elizabeth. Her husband had been the social of the two with all the friends; so when he passed away, Marie found herself completely alone. “I was feeling extremely sad and lonely when suddenly I was approached by a friendly lady who understood my grief,” says Marie, originally from India. “Elizabeth assured me that it would be a good healing experience if I joined the group.” A week later, Marie attended her first meeting and was warmly welcomed by the friendly group. “Now I am proud to be a member,” she says. “It has helped me build confidence and practice English.”
And there’s no shortage of that in their meetings. One can barely get a word in as they chat about the neighbourhood, their gardens, sharing wool and doing projects together. “This is what it's all about,” says Cecilia, “seeing them on the street being able to talk!”
“Thank you for this place,” says Elizabeth. “For SHARE.”
Ex-gang member inspires youth to take the high road
When Dennis was four years old, he witnessed his father shoot a man. Following that, Dennis spiralled into a life of drugs, gangs and violence. So fifty years later it would come to much surprise that his life story inspired a youth to say no to gangs.
Dennis comes from a family with a history of organized crime. His father wasn’t around much, and his family made no effort to conceal his whereabouts. “Daddy’s out robbing banks,” Dennis remembers thinking to himself. He sought his father’s approval and idolized him for the power and prestige he seemed to receive. “I used to romanticize everything, and grew up with a warped sense of justice - what is mine and how to get it.”
Dennis clearly remembers buying his first bag of dope when he was a kid. “Who knew it would change my life,” he recalls. By 14, he joined his first street gang in an effort to protect himself from an unsafe neighbourhood. (As the old adage goes: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.) By 18, Dennis was known as a drug importer.
But nothing could protect Dennis from losing friends in gang shootings, or avoiding many close calls of his own. “Every time I met someone, I wondered if this is the one that’s gonna get me killed,” he says. “But it’s that rush that’s addictive, it’s so real.” Nevertheless, Dennis pulled out of the drug trade for good.
Dennis found work in mills and kitchens (he has a passion for cooking), but discovered that he was battling untreated mental health, addictions and anger management issues. When they recently emerged, he turned to SHARE for help and was quickly enrolled in Addictions Counselling and Anger Management. “My counsellor has been amazing. She dug deeper into my past, and that’s when she asked me to write the letter.”
His counsellor had also been working with a Tri-City youth who had expressed interest in joining a gang. She believed that Dennis could dissuade him from this lifestyle if he shared with the youth his life story. Dennis was shocked by her request, and couldn’t believe that his life could have a positive impact on another. Nonetheless, in an effort to do what he could, he wrote the letter.
When he found out that his letter had been successful, he cried. “To this day I struggle with the the idea that my life could have impacted someone,” he confesses. “But it also makes me sad to think of all the kids that don’t receive a letter. It drives me to want to do more.” Since his treatment has ended, he has volunteered at SHARE’s food bank and is currently enrolling himself at Vancouver Community College to become a guidance counsellor.
Dennis is emphatic that the community is there to help you, but you have to first want to help yourself. “I have seen people that actually care and want to make a difference. And I want to be one of them. Of all the excitement I’ve ever chased, this has to be the biggest high of them all.”
Shaina - A Super Star!
Shaina was born premature, at 29 weeks. The first year was a struggle. She was not meeting the expected benchmarks. She had trouble sitting up, standing and finding enough balance to walk. During that year, it became clear that something was wrong. After months of testing, Shaina was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP), a condition that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way).