While the Williams family was enjoying a ball game, their four year old daughter, Roberta, became ill and had to be airlifted to Children’s Hospital. Her illness was diagnosed as Congenital Heart Failure with several complications. In an instant, the family’s life was turned upside down. Roberta’s mom, Sandra, stayed in Vancouver for months at a time while her Dad stayed behind working, managing the house and caring for three siblings while travelling back and forth to Vancouver to support his wife and Roberta whenever possible. The costs were astronomical and debilitating to the family placing enormous pressure on everyone.
After meeting many families in the same position from all over the province, Sandra and the Williams family realized that something had to be done to alleviate the financial burden for families in the Comox Valley who were dealing with the medical crisis of a child. It was crucial to them to ensure that the family unit stay intact to give every opportunity for the child to be cared for and heal with their family at their side. They committed to finding a solution for the Comox Valley.
The fund begins
With the assistance of the Red Cross, Sandra Williams and Gail White, both Red Cross volunteers, created a brochure of resources for Comox Valley families who had to travel out of town for medical treatment for their children. Although that filled a gap, they knew that there was so much more that needed to be done. The You Are Not Alone (YANA) Fund Society was created and registered under the Society Act on March 19, 1986 with Sandra Williams and Gail White as the first signing officers.
During those early years YANA was built on the sheer determination and hard work of a small group of volunteers with Sandra at the helm. Sandra spoke at Service Clubs and to politicians to get the funding started. In the first year, 14 families received assistance of $14,000. In 1988 Sandra & Jim Williams received the Distinguished Service to Families Award for BC.
Over the years there have been many YANA fundraisers. Their first major fundraiser was the Celebrity Auction in 1987. Volunteers sent out over 1,000 letters and ended up with over 100 autographed celebrity items and photographs. These items were auctioned off by one of the Valley’s great YANA supporters, Dave Stevens. He was assisted by Terry David Mulligan of Much Music. The Celebrity Auction continued to be a major annual fundraiser for many years to come.
Also starting in 1987 was the Penny Drive held for a week each May, designated as Parent Week throughout the Valley.
The YANA 24 Hour Relay started in 1992, raising $40,000 in its best year. YANA continued with the 24 hour relay until 2005, changing it to a 12 hour relay in 2006 and 2007.
Weekly drop-in bingo at the Lower Elks Hall raised approximately $1,500 per month for many years. YANA volunteers also ran the YANA concession trailer and bars at many local events. Many families will remember collecting their firewood at the YANA Woodlot in exchange for a donation to YANA.
All of these fundraisers were organized and run by a small core of YANA volunteers. Many times in those years they weren’t sure they were going to receive enough funds to meet the need. They raised the money and they distributed it to families in the Comox Valley. They did it from their homes and from their hearts until they just couldn’t do it anymore.
Becoming a household name
In November 2005 it was announced that the existing board would not be able to continue and that they needed new volunteers if YANA was going to continue their good work. By then, YANA was a well-loved Comox Valley charity and soon another set of fresh faces appeared. For a few years they continued as before but before long realized the need for an office space and a part-time executive director. YANA had outgrown its humble beginnings. Thanks to the twenty years of dedication of the previous boards, YANA had become a household name in the Comox Valley.
Although there were many individuals who volunteered their time with YANA over the years, there are two in particular who spent thousands of hours raising money for YANA. They are Vicki Woods and Bonnie Bragg. Their contribution was acknowledged when they were named joint Citizens of the Year by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2007.
Residents of the Comox Valley are eternally grateful to Sandra Williams, her family, and her friends for all of their hard work, determination, and all of the heart that it took to establish YANA. Comox Valley families will be assisted for years to come because of Sandra’s vision. Sadly, Sandra Williams, the founder of YANA, passed away on Saturday, July 25th, 2009. Sandra is an icon in our community and we are humbled by all that she has done for the Comox Valley.
Today, YANA depends on approximately $375,000 per year to fund its service to families. The Comox Valley community has been incredibly generous in ensuring the needs of the families supported by YANA are met.