Grinning beneath her blue and white mask, Emily’s eyes are alight with a sparkle unique to those truly joyful. Her thick brown hair frames a friendly, beautiful face. Her gait is confident, quick, and purposeful.
In the elevator of the Windsor Essex Children’s Aid Society, as Emily prepares to share her story and why the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Foundation (WECAF) has been so important for her, she grips the folder which holds the list of all the things she can recall, over her young life, that the Foundation has made possible.
“I’m such a big advocate for other youth to have the experiences I had in foster care,” she shares. “Because as a child in foster care, you often feel left out, like you don’t have the same opportunities as other youth. You genuinely just don’t know about the different resources that should and could be available to you, and what WECAF made possible for me I can look back on and know I loved it so much.
“Each and every experience I had as a result of their generosity was 100 per cent something that is almost indescribable – the impact that this group had on myself as a developing person, someone coming into her own as a young person, and eliminating the stigma about being in care… this badge of honour I carry could not have ever been possible if it weren’t for WECAF and for this entire system that carried me.”
WECAF was founded to provide financial support, through fundraising initiatives, that contributes to the well-being, safety, and increased opportunities for children, youth and families supported by the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society. The mandate of the organization is to fund programs for these children to be able to reach their maximum potential, through which kids can develop skillsets for daily living and future employment, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love.
The programs funded by the Foundation are vast. “I don’t even know if I can count the ways the Foundation has been able to help me from when I was little until literally right at this moment,” says Emily. “I did group therapies, one-on-one talk therapy. I got to go to summer camp every year, which was something so important to me, because when my friends got back from Europe or other exciting summer excursions, I got to say that I went to summer camp, even overnight summer camp.
“The Foundation paid for my swimming lessons, the way they will for any other youth interested in whatever sport they’ve set their heart on, and even paid for my new bathing suits year after year, as well as the $20 I’d need to pay for my races when I couldn’t afford it out of my small allowance.
“And then there was my involvement on the Youth Advisory Committee, which is a way for me to advocate for our youth in care.
“I want to cry,” continues Emily. “I know I’m listing all of these unbelievable experiences, but I can’t even really verbalize how much it has meant to have this support. When you consider that some kids have flipped through ten or 15 homes because of placement breakdown, when you think about the loss of normality in the lives of youth in care, when you think about the amount of money that it takes just to exist, and you have no parents to fall back on – that’s what the Foundation gives.
“When you don’t have a biological family who can give you financial support to help you reach your full potential, you realize how money is a huge part of breaking that intergenerational cycle of being in care, of being impoverished, of only knowing low standards of living. A person can truly never comprehend how this financial support – whether it’s $20 here or fees for swimming lessons there – can change a life.”
Today, thanks to a full ride scholarship gained by Emily through academic excellence and the work she has contributed to the Children’s Aid Society, she’s a registered nurse.
For Tracey, a “kin mother” who fought for – and won – legal custody for her “kiddos,” the WECAF was, for a long time, a lifeline.
“The CAS was a guiding light, and the Foundation was so important in helping me provide a stable environment,” Tracey shares. “The kids had never experienced sports. They had never experienced dance classes, or any recreational activities.
“But what the Foundation really did was provide this sense of safety, like ‘you mean we’re not going to hurt anymore? We don’t have to worry about food? We can play? We can be kids?’ And how can you put a dollar value on that?”
To find out more about how you can support resources for children, youth and families, visit www.wecaf.on.ca. You can make a difference by sponsoring a KIT. KITS are as little as $250 and include a Laundry Kit, a Hygiene Kit, a Birthday Party Kit, a Cleaning Kit, and even a Create a Bedroom for a Child Kit. These and other options for “KITS” can be purchased at wecaf.on.ca/kits.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Windsor Essex Children’s Aid Society.