YANA Christmas Crackers on sale in stores and online

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Originally published by the Comox Valley Record Nov. 15, 2020

The 2020 YANA Christmas Cracker Campaign is kicking off again, and like most things right now, this year’s fundraiser looks a little different. The usual cracker making gatherings were cancelled due to the pandemic situation and social distancing measures, but the efforts continued, led by volunteer campaign coordinator, Robbie Rusk. Her dream team of cracker crafters came forward to take supplies home and they pulled together to assemble the 5000 crackers throughout the COVID lockdown in the Spring. 

Crackers are ready for purchase at seven retail locations, as well as in the online store just launched. YANA Executive Director Kelly Barnie shared the shift in approach to this year’s campaign, and the measures they’ve taken to ensure the fundraiser is both safe and successful. 

“Like everything fundraising and life in general, this year’s cracker campaign has required us to adjust and adapt. We’ve limited our distribution locations to businesses with strong COVID protocols in place for walk-in business, as well as to places most likely to remain open if restrictions increase again. We also started an online store, where buyers can choose to purchase and pick-up at YANA’s office on Rosewall Crescent, or to have their crackers directly shipped to the location they choose. We know that many businesses and individuals are thinking about the approaching tax season and the contributions they want to make, and the online store makes it easy to add an additional donation and receive a receipt for the 2020 tax year.”

The hand-crafted crackers are $3.00 each and contain traditional trinkets and jokes. Fifty crackers contain special prizes donated by local businesses, including the Grand Prize of a gorgeous 18kt gold diamond Cavelti ring generously donated by Mark the Gold, appraised at $2835.00 by Tim Haley of Simply Timeless.

Last year YANA supported 172 families and 433 medical trips for Comox Valley families who required medical care outside of the community. Because of the generous sponsorships from Paul Ardron and Kirk Campbell of IG Wealth Management, 100% of the cracker proceeds go directly to the continued support that YANA provides for our community and families. 

YANA Christmas Crackers are on sale now, and sell out quickly every year. They can be purchased at Edible Island Whole Foods Market, Seeds Food Market, Tin Town Cafe, John’s Your Independent Grocer, Comox Community Centre, Quality Foods in Comox and Courtenay and through YANA’s Online Store. Bulk orders as well as cash donations can also be done at the YANA office at 102, 2456 Rosewall Cres on Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:00am to 2:00pm. 

For more information, and to purchase YANA Christmas Crackers online, visit https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com/yana-event/christmas-crackers/ 

Connor’s Home Away from Home

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To honour client confidentiality, this composite “based-on-real-life-events” story has been written by Andrea Postal from the YANA Client Care Team including details, experiences and emotions from several of the clients who have stayed in our YANA apartments in the last year. Stock photo.

Dusk is falling on the water and I look to see Connor’s face pressed up against the window watching the dock become more than a dot in the distance as we near the familiar mainland shore. I scolded him for the dozenth time. “How many kids before you smeared their face up against the same window? Germs, Connor, you can’t have anyone else’s but your own right now”. It’s the second time this month we’ve ferried across these waters and it’s the one thing that still holds some novelty and sparks some joy on these trips for my 6-year-old son, who almost a year ago suddenly found himself with a cancer diagnosis, losing most of what knew in his comfortable little world: his bed, his room, his friends and even pestering little sister, playgrounds, movie theatres, swimming pools, his childhood in every sense it should be for a 6-year-old boy. Every day I long for normalcy in his upturned life, but I’m not even sure he remembers what normalcy is. A year is a lifetime for a 6-year-old, and it’s been a long one for all of us. 

Our family received Connor’s diagnosis after months of unexplained fatigue, dizziness, and recurring fevers and infections that were given no explanation until that day that they were; it was Leukemia, the L-word, the one no parent wants to hear uttered over their child. 

There isn’t a family that believes it could be them and we were no exception, but there we were sitting in our GP’s office, accepting the unfolding reality of what we found ourselves in, a life we couldn’t have imagined; our life, our world as we knew it, was suddenly changed. 

In a whirlwind of tests, appointments, and imminent plans for treatment to begin, the numbers started stacking up and so did questions of how we would make this all work. Who would go? Where would we stay? Do we keep working or quit our jobs? Do we change schools, move our family? Connor’s extensive treatment plan was going to determine the next few years of our life, and our heads were spinning with the decisions we were being forced to make, and quickly. 

The day after receiving Connor’s diagnosis we found ourselves packing our bags with a week’s worth of clothes, toys, and a few comforts from home. It would be just Connor and I on this trip. Jack, Connor’s dad and his sister Maeve would stay behind while we sorted out our next steps. After an uneventful trip to Vancouver, we arrived at BC Children’s Hospital for our first round of extensive testing and treatment, all within 48 hours of Connor’s diagnosis. I still remember the smell of the hospital air walking through those doors for the first time, it was the scent of illness and a complete loss of control, one that would become a familiar and bitter kind of nostalgia. 

In the midst of it all, we did find a silver lining, and it would change the course of the next year for us. It was during a meeting with Anne, our appointed oncology social worker, that the suggestion of reaching out to YANA came up. We knew the name, a friend of ours was supported by YANA after their premature baby was airlifted to Vancouver a few years back. She spoke passionately about the organization and the overwhelming support that was provided during their extensive NICU stay. We had no idea how impacted we would also be by this organization and the support they would soon offer us.

It was a quick phone call to their office and a huge piece of our complicated puzzle was solved. YANA would not only be providing us with daily funds we could use to cover any one of the many expenses we would incur, they also offered to provide us with a one-bedroom apartment near the hospital, just a 20-minute walk door to door. No matter how long our treatment, no matter how many trips or how many months we would be required to be away from the Valley, we would have a home away from home. 

A YANA volunteer on the ground in Vancouver met me at the hospital the next day with keys and a letter explaining the use of the apartment. I took in whatever information I could while she sweetly described details I couldn’t quite absorb. All I knew so clearly in that moment was that we were not alone, this organization and our community back home had our backs and would be a huge part of the story of how we made it through. 

After more sleepless nights on a cot in Connor’s hospital room than I care to remember, we were finally given a pass to leave the hospital between treatments. Connor’s dad and sister had come across with some of our things and they were waiting for us at the apartment when we arrived that first night. Connor and I stood in the cold for a moment outside the downtown Vancouver building and took it all in. It wasn’t much of a sight, it was weathered and old and looked to have seen better days in decades past, but I could feel it was a gift and would become something like home. 

We let ourselves in and climbed the stairs carefully to the second floor. Connor was more tired and weak than ever. He didn’t complain, he just moved slowly. I scooped him up in my arms at the top and carried him down the long hallway. The floors were worn, the paint was thick and chipping off the walls, and it smelled of curry and old carpet. I tapped on the door and took a deep breath, I could feel Connors own breath on my neck, his chest lifting on and off mine and his warm head on my shoulder. Jack let us in and wrapped us up in his arms, kissing us each on the head as we moved our tired bodies through the door to our new home. 

The inside was nothing like the rest of the building. It was lovingly cared for with enough art and furnishings to make it feel like home. The kitchen was stocked with the dishes we would need to cook our own meals, and a dining room table and chairs to the side. The living room was set up simply with a couch, a TV, ottoman, small desk, and a lamp in one corner of the room. Jack brought over my favourite monstera plant and set it up in the corner along with a ficus and a blossoming orchid. Jack had arranged family photos on the side table, and a small rug under the coffee table and couch pillows on the couch from our family rec room. A slew of Connor’s toys and craft supplies were piled up in two bins in the living room, along with a sack of stuffed animals that would soon be a strewn arrangement across our bedroom. 

The living room couch pulled out to a bed.  Jack and Maeve slept on it the first couple of times they visited on the weekends, but the camping mattress provided ended up working better than the old hide-a-bed which turned out to be uncomfortable and a bit broken.  Jack and I would share the two twin beds in the bedroom, which Jack insisted we push together. We covered it with the sheets provided and a colourful, king-sized quilt Jack’s mother had made for our wedding. The bed and mattress weren’t the comfort from home that I was used to, but it was enough to be close to my boy in a room of our own. It was these small pieces from our life on the other side of the water that set all of us at ease through all the newness and changes and difficult days to come.

The 10 months that followed those first days are a blur, each one tired and long with doctors and social workers, tests and treatments. The hard days outnumbered the good ones for Jack as he endured treatments and side-effects that made life anything but easy, those 10 months were a dark and difficult season I know we’d both rather forget. 

But it was the small things that counted for us both. The store around the corner became our local grocer, and the deli across the street or the pizza place a block away became our usual Friday take-out. There was a park nearby that we’d walk to on Connor’s good days, we’d sit on the bench and watch the season’s change and the people come and go. We had a warm place to turn in to, with internet and cable TV to entertain us and keep us connected, and our own spot to curl up on at night. Our circumstances were hard, but our needs were met and our hearts felt so full of gratitude for all of the things that made us feel at home. 

It was about mid-way through Jack’s treatment that we were cleared to go home for a little over a week to celebrate his birthday and spend some time as a family. That same week, YANA contacted us about some upgrades that had just been approved for the unit we were staying in. While the apartment had served the needs that we had, we were thrilled to learn that there would be some much-needed improvements made, like new flooring, mattresses, and some new furnishings.

The renovations were scheduled to take place during our week away, and we were blown away coming back to the changes that had been made. The old carpet was replaced with beautiful, new laminate flooring. Beyond the ease of a quick Swiffer or mop to clean the new floors, no more carpet meant that I didn’t have to clean so deeply and so often. Jack was now immune-compromised, and bare floors were much easier to sanitize and maintain the level of cleanliness that he needed. 

A brand new, modern sofabed couch replaced the old one, which Jack and Maeve had opted out of sleeping on after a short few nights. We were a bit skeptical of any hide-a-bed, but the first night sleeping on this new comfy mattress and they were sold.  A large desk, new office chair, and under-chair-mat were added to the living room which made for a dedicated, comfortable place Jack and I could do our remote-work between treatments and taking turns caring for Connor. In the bedroom, the old mattresses were replaced and the new ones were a welcome change for both of us. Our sleep was broken on a good night, between Jack being sick from treatment side-effects and my tossing and turning to get back to sleep on a mattress that had seen better days, the new ones made all the difference. These things may seem insignificant to some, but they made this space a more comfortable place to call home, and that meant the world to us. 

Fast forward to today, and although our life is far from normal, we have come a long way. 

The arrival announcement comes over the ferry speaker, I can almost recite it word for word. Peeling Jack away from the window one more time, we make our way down the vehicle deck before making our last leg to the mainland. This is our final stretch before we go into maintenance; Jack’s been allowed longer stays at home and now he’ll have shorter trips across a couple of times a month, but this should be our last stay in the home we’ve made in our Oak Street suite. 

This week has been an easier week than most. Jack’s energy is coming back and we’ve been taking more walks to the park and playing Candy Land before bed every night. We’re all so ready for more time in our beds with our own things and time together as a family, but we will look back on this part of our time with hearts full. After a long day of paperwork and appointments at the end of our week, we are given the green light to pack up the apartment. Jack and Maeve come across and take a car-full of most of the things we’d brought over to make this place our home.  A Swiffer and wipe down of the cupboards, surfaces and bathroom, and the place was clean and ready for another family to use. I appreciated so much the ease of how quick and easy it was to clean, it was the last thing I wanted to do after a tiring day or long week, but it had become a simple chore. 

Although we’ll spend many nights still in this apartment, it’ll no longer be our home, instead, it will be a safe, warm, and clean place to lay our heads at night for these shorter treatments over the next little while. There will be other families with sick children, long days, and uncertain times coming and going from this same suite, and it will no doubt be a gift to them as it was to our family. This place has been the difference between feeling supported and feeling alone, and we most certainly know we are not alone.

YANA here for children of ALL ages – Ephraim, Age 11 months

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Comox Valley family a second-generation YANA family

Originally published by the Comox Valley Record Sept. 28, 2020

Andrea Postal, Client Services, YANA.  Special to the Record

It was early on a fall morning that Amber Van Der Mark recalls being woken up by labour pains, a whole 2.5 months before her due date. After a phone call to the midwife and an assessment at the hospital, it became clear that Amber and her partner Scott’s first baby was going to be joining their family far sooner than they expected, and far from home, too. At just 28 weeks and two days pregnant, Amber was airlifted that evening to Victoria General Hospital, the closest hospital on the Island that provides for infants born so early.

These are not circumstances anyone imagines bringing their baby into, but YANA sees these cases on a regular basis. In the Comox Valley, labour before 37 weeks requires mothers to deliver in Nanaimo, Victoria, and in some cases, Vancouver. Amber shared about the overwhelming feeling to receive the news that she would be leaving the Valley to give birth, and the many unknowns about the weeks and months ahead with a preemie.

“When Scott and I were in Victoria those first two days not knowing when our son would be born, not knowing how long we would have to stay there, it would stress us out,” Amber said. “We were worried about our son coming early, we were worried about eating away through our savings, especially since we just bought a new house; we got the keys to the house the day Ephraim was born. We were worried about where we would be staying and the cost that would come with that. That was until we got a hold of YANA. The best way I can describe how I felt after Scott relayed the conversation he had with one of the representatives from YANA, was as if I just came up from underwater for days and got my first breath of fresh air. My whole body relaxed, my mind at ease, I started to cry.”

Ephraim was born just six days after their arrival in Victoria, a tiny but healthy one-pound, 13-ounce baby boy who Amber described as “a strong boy and a fighter.” Ephraim made amazing progress as the days went by, checking all of the boxes and meeting milestones, but it would still be 69 long days in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for the new family.

Amber expressed how incredible it was to receive support from YANA throughout their time, and how much more meaningful the support felt because of her parents’ history with YANA. Amber’s family had received the ongoing support of YANA almost three decades ago, something that suddenly became so much more appreciated and understood through her own experience.

“Back in 1990 when our family moved to the Valley, my brother needed to spend some time in the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for surgeries and back then YANA had supported my parents. From then until my brother reached his late teens YANA was there supporting. Years later, my parents gave back by bidding on YANA’s Christmas trees. I never really thought about how much those donations to YANA my parents made really did mean, not until we were in the NICU and YANA was there to support us. In a way it has done a full circle. YANA helped my parents, my parents donated to YANA, and YANA was there to help us.”

Amber and Scott were blown away when YANA came through again after a sudden transfer to the Nanaimo hospital for the final nine days of their NICU journey. Though they were closer to home, they couldn’t imagine being an hour away from their son, never mind needing to travel down to visit him each day.

“The problem was solved with one phone call.” Amber explained. “YANA had arranged for us to stay in a motel until they could find us a bed and breakfast that was close to the hospital. Again, all I had to worry about now was seeing my son, Scott and I had a place to stay in Nanaimo, it was all taken care of with the help of YANA.”

From penny drives in years past, to Valley Vonka chocolate bars, and the countless other community fundraisers that take place each year, it is this Valley’s dedication to keep showing up that lets families know that no matter what they face, they are not alone. It’s because of the decades of commitment from individuals in our community who step up to provide in ways both big and small, that families like Amber and Scott’s, can be supported through challenging times.

“I cannot express how grateful both Scott and I are from the love we have of this community. We cannot thank everyone enough for their continued support and donations to YANA. I look at my son every day and just realize how lucky we are to live in a community where everyone is there for everyone.”

The annual Valley Vonka fundraiser in support of YANA is now in full swing.

Chocolate bars are available for purchase (by donation), with “Golden Tickets” randomly inserted inside five Valley Vonka chocolate bars.

Finding a Golden Ticket gives you a chance at one of five great grand prize packages, from Mount Washington Alpine Resort; The Old House Hotel & Spa; Kingfisher Oceanside Resort; Canadian Tire; and Peninsula Co-op.

Chocolate bars are available at:

• Comox Valley Record office

• Ashley Furniture Homestore

• Old House Hotel, OhSpa, Locals Restaurant

• Mount Washington Alpine Resort

• Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa

• Peninsula Co-op (Aspen Location)

• Canadian Tire

• Hot Chocolates

• Sure Copy

• Bomback & Co.

• Blinds and Bubbles Boutique

• Living Room Pharmacy

• Margot Rutherford Notary

• Mackenzie Gartside

• Pilon Tools

YANA here for children of ALL ages – Wes, Age 4

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YANA’s ability to adjust on the fly a huge stress relief for the Szabo family

Originally published by the Comox Valley Record Sept. 27, 2020

Andrea Postal, Client Services, YANA.  Special to the Record

Organization provided support for Wes, 4, and his family

Westley Szabo is a bright and curious four-year-old boy who loves the solar system, can name all of the planets and most of their moons, knows his alphabet and numbers to 20, and delights in spending his hours on the beach by the ocean, a place that mother Jacklyn refers to as “Wes’s happy place.”

Wes was recently diagnosed with autism and global developmental delay, a discovery that has provided answers and insight for his parents Jacklyn and Andrei, after a long and confusing search to understand both the physical and cognitive challenges that presented when Wes was very young.

“When we first started Wes’s journey, we were led to believe he had a genetic condition, Goldenhar Syndrome,” explains mother Jacklyn. “This led to multiple appointments out of town and started us on our medical journey with him. He’s seen a cardiologist, ophthalmologist, ENT, geneticists, undergone surgery, and more recently been through an autism assessment that has led us to his diagnosis. The journey to get these answers is what led us to where we are now. These appointments are hard to get, and you want to be able to say YES each time one calls to let you know you need to come in. I can say yes each time because YANA makes it possible to do so.”

YANA has not only provided support for many trips the family has made for these out-of-town appointments, but they have also been a source of significant comfort and help through some of the more difficult trips the Szabo family has made for their son. Jacklyn recounts the relief she felt when YANA came through again during a particularly stressful time for their family after Wes experienced some complications following surgery at Victoria General Hospital.

“We came to stay at Jeneece Place because our son needed surgery at the hospital. We were supposed to be in and out in one day. He wasn’t recovering well, and I, of course, was very stressed out as we couldn’t leave the hospital, and YANA had only planned a one-night stay. I was so anxious as I laid next to my son worrying about what we were going to do. I got a hold of YANA and they took that stress on and figured it out. We were able to stay where we were until he was able to go home. I remember the panic literally leaving my voice when I found out we didn’t have to worry.”

There is no doubt that life is anything but simple for Wes and his family, with daily challenges, appointments, therapies, and the ongoing learning curve of caring for and supporting a child with diverse needs, an awareness that Jacklyn hopes to see more of in our community.

“My hope for all children who are neurodiverse in the Valley is more accessibility, compassion and inclusion, and for families like ours to know YANA exists for families just like ours.”

“I always say ‘I’ll never leave this place’ to my family and friends. I say that because we’ve experienced generosity, kindness and inclusion from our home here. We are never alone when we leave the Valley for care. It feels like the Valley is going with us when we have to leave. We know quite a few small businesses and individuals who support YANA, and I hope they know they are part of our story now.”

For more information, visit https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com/get-support/

***

The annual Valley Vonka fundraiser in support of YANA is now in full swing.

Chocolate bars are available for purchase (by donation), with “Golden Tickets” randomly inserted inside five Valley Vonka chocolate bars.

Finding a Golden Ticket gives you a chance at one of five great grand prize packages, from Mount Washington Alpine Resort; The Old House Hotel & Spa; Kingfisher Oceanside Resort; Canadian Tire; and Peninsula Co-op.

Chocolate bars are available at:

• Comox Valley Record office

• Ashley Furniture Homestore

• Old House Hotel, OhSpa, Locals Restaurant

• Mount Washington Alpine Resort

• Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa

• Peninsula Co-op (Aspen Location)

• Canadian Tire

• Hot Chocolates

• Sure Copy

• Bomback & Co.

• Blinds and Bubbles Boutique

• Living Room Pharmacy

• Margot Rutherford Notary

• Mackenzie Gartside

• Pilon Tools

YANA here for children of ALL ages – Eliza, Age 8

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YANA support a source of ‘instant relief’ for mother and daughter in need.

Originally published by the Comox Valley Record Sept. 15, 2020

Andrea Postal, Client Services, YANA.  Special to the Record

Mother recalls the day she was required to leave the community for daughter’s health

Lindsay Dalley, Comox Valley resident and mother of four, wasn’t anticipating that a trip to the ER was going to turn into a transfer to Victoria General Hospital for her daughter Eliza, who developed a serious infection that required a treatment not offered at the Comox Valley Hospital.

Eliza was diagnosed with a difficult to treat strain of infection called actinomycetes following a surgery she’d recently undergone. After seeing no improvement in the infection from oral antibiotics, it was determined that Eliza required IV antibiotics and a PICC line, a procedure that needed to be done in the pediatric unit of Victoria General Hospital.

Lindsay recalled the day she received the news they would be required to leave the community for Eliza’s health.

“I had asked on a moms’ group what items I should bring for a stay at the Victoria hospital and that was when I had been told that I should contact YANA for financial support,” said Lindsay. “My husband was away at work in Alberta, I had done our bi-weekly grocery shop and filled the car with fuel; we are a one-income household and payday was the following week. I literally had under $100 left when we got the call to go to the Victoria hospital. We were told to pack for two, possibly three days. I didn’t think much about it and would just make it work, and then when we got there I was told she would be there at least five days. I slept on the couch with my toddler in her room that first night.

“The following day is when I was able to contact YANA and they made arrangements for us to stay at Jeneece Place next door. It was an emotional roller coaster for sure when I realized I had no way to pay for a place or food for a stay of at least five days; it was instant relief when I got in contact with YANA.”

This kind of trip isn’t uncommon for Comox Valley families to make when their children require treatment not offered in the community, but the sudden and emergent need to go can leave families feeling helpless as they face many challenges. Things like arranging and covering the costs of travel, parking, accommodations and food, add up quickly. They can weigh on a family a lot, especially with the stress and worry that comes along with having a sick child.

Executive Director Kelly Barnie remembers receiving the voicemail from Lindsay and talking on the phone with her on a Saturday morning while she was in the room with Eliza, who was struggling to be able to swallow the meds she had to take.

“I could hear the worry in Lindsay’s voice so clearly, but also the amazing mama bear strength she was mustering for her little girl,” said Barnie. “The stress of needing to help her take the pills that she needed to take at that moment, but also the weight of what the future would bring because of this rare infection, made my heart ache for her. I was so incredibly grateful then, as I am every time I explain the support YANA provides, that we are lucky enough to live in a community that comes together so strongly in support of our children and families.”

Months later, Eliza is still receiving treatment after a nearly year-long course of antibiotics, and the family continues to wait anxiously for a surgery that will hopefully resolve the problem for good. In the meantime, Lindsay knows she can reach out to YANA along the way for anything from surgical consults through to post-op check-ups, with the assurance that YANA will be there the whole road, and that thanks to a community that rallies together for families, they are not alone.

YANA (You Are Not Alone) is a community organization offering help to Comox Valley families who need to travel for medical treatment for a child or for a pregnant mother.

For more information, visit https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com/get-support/

•••

The annual Valley Vonka fundraiser in support of YANA is now in full swing.

Chocolate bars are available for purchase (by donation), with “Golden Tickets” randomly inserted inside five Valley Vonka chocolate bars.

Finding a Golden Ticket gives you a chance at one of five great grand prize packages, from Mount Washington Alpine Resort; The Old House Hotel & Spa; Kingfisher Oceanside Resort; Canadian Tire; and Peninsula Co-op.

Chocolate bars are available at:

• Comox Valley Record office

• Ashley Furniture Homestore

• Old House Hotel, OhSpa, Locals Restaurant

• Mount Washington Alpine Resort

• Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa

• Peninsula Co-op (Aspen Location)

• Canadian Tire

• Hot Chocolates

• Sure Copy

• Bomback & Co.

• Blinds and Bubbles Boutique

• Living Room Pharmacy

• Margot Rutherford Notary

• Mackenzie Gartside

• Pilon Tools

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