Originally published by the Comox Valley Record, April 13, 2022
Andrea Rose, Special to the Record
Sarah and Kyle Lesage are no strangers to YANA.
Their first time encountering the generosity and support of the community-funded organization dates back to 2017, when their first-born child, Harvey, was airlifted to Victoria for suspected pneumothorax shortly after he was born. YANA was immediately there, supporting the family with money for food and travel. Harvey made a full recovery from what ended up being a treatable infection, and after three days the family returned home, full of gratitude for the support they received while away.
No more than a year later, Sarah, Kyle and Harvey were anticipating a double-blessing to join their family; twins were expected to arrive sometime in the late fall, but in August of 2018 Sarah’s water broke at just 27 weeks pregnant. Much like their big brother, the twins seemed to have their own grand entrance in mind, which included Sarah being emergency-airlifted, this time to Vancouver, to monitor and prepare for a very early arrival.
The family also knew that they could rely on YANA once again. There are no limits or lifetime maximums with YANA’s funding and accommodations programs, and the couple was blown away by unconditional support from what they’d come to know as a true gift and lifeline, right from their very own community.
“We were hoping we wouldn’t (need it) this time around, but alas, YANA was there again to offer support,” Sarah says, describing how YANA was there almost immediately, no questions asked.
“I felt extremely guilty for needing to rely on YANA for a third time. But they made me feel so loved and looked after. Like no strings attached, guilt-free kind of feeling.
“(We received) $200 in cash before even leaving the hospital, and Kyle was put up in Jeneece Place, so the stress of where he was going to stay was immediately taken off. We could focus on our baby girl. We once again were overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity YANA gives. It truly is a beautiful organization.”
Thankfully, Elenni’s condition turned out to be much less critical than was first suspected; there was no brain bleed, and the medical team felt that her breathing and feeding issues were due to her being born three weeks before her due date.
She was placed on an NG tube and stayed in the NICU for a total of 10 days.
During her time at Jeneece Place, Sarah made friends with another mother of a 25-week old boy who was also far from home and struggling to make ends meet.
“She had to raise funds through GoFundMe in order to pay for her stay and lost wages. I cannot imagine that added stress along with trying to care for a baby who needs extra care. I think every community needs an organization as helpful and loving as YANA.”
The realization of just how special an organization YANA is, and just how much it truly takes a community to make what they do possible, has made it a no-brainer for the couple to jump in and help any way they can. Kyle, among myriad talents, is an experienced videographer and technological guru, and has helped the organization pull off the complicated live streaming component for YANA’s Big Love virtual event for the last two years, and it’s been an honour for them to give back.
“(Kyle) has seen firsthand how the whole community backs YANA,” said Sarah. “Having YANA at your side is like having the whole Valley holding your hand. We are humbled by being part of the giving and receiving end of YANA and the Comox Valley’s generosity.”
Over the past five years YANA has supported the Lesage family through three births, four babies, and many long days and sleepless nights away from home. Thanks to the incredible support of a community that continues to say yes, families like the Lesage’s can know that no matter what may lie on the road ahead, they don’t have to walk a single one of those days alone.
Originally published by the Comox Valley Record, April 13, 2022
by Erin Haluschack
Even though it’s been more than 35 years since she started the grassroots organization, Sandra Williams’s legacy continues to live on in the Comox Valley through YANA – You Are Not Alone.
The community organization offers help to Comox Valley families who need to travel for medical treatment for a child or for a pregnant mother, with the goal to improve access to healthcare by providing travel funding and accommodation.
“Exactly what she started with; the same mission, the same mandate, as she started then is exactly what we do now,” said Kelly Barnie, executive director of YANA on the latest episode of Off The Page, which drops April 13. “I mean, things look different, they feel different, but the support is still the same.”
Barnie talked about the challenges YANA faced with the pandemic, particularly as their models for fundraising were primarily event-based.
She credited the community for stepping up despite having so many events shut down.
“We actually did better with a lot of the fundraisers (than before COVID), because when people could have said ‘no, sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, we just can’t support this year,’ everyone found a way to do it. That part has been the hardest part of it operationally… but the most rewarding right to show that we can come through it.
“Our families don’t have a choice of whether to take the thing that’s hard and decide to do it or not, they just do… it just has made it even more clear how important it is to be able to say, ‘yeah, we got you.’ ”
As for finding a balance between helping families with some of the worst situations they may ever face and taking care of herself and her staff, Barnie said there are times when family scenarios are particularly difficult.
“There’s some really hard situations and stories that are hard on the heart for sure. But it is very easily washed away. When we can do that follow-up email and it says every time you are not alone, just know we’re here every step of the way. And if I can reassure someone of that over the phone, it makes every one of those minutes… worth it to hear that sigh of relief from a family.”
As for Barnie’s most memorable story or family she’s worked with? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out.
To listen to the full episode, download Off The Page on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and everywhere podcasts are heard, or visit cvoffthepage.buzzsprout.com. New episodes of Off The Page drop every Wednesday.
To submit podcast topics or guest ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• • •
The Valley Vonka and the Hot Chocolates Factory fundraiser (where 100 per cent of donations go directly to YANA) wraps up shortly – make sure to pick up your chocolate bars by donation in order to find one of six golden tickets to win an amazing prize.
Chocolate bars can be found at the Record office (407D 5th Street, Courtenay), Parker’s Appliance & More, Old House Hotel & Spa, Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa, Canadian Tire, Hot Chocolates, Sure Copy Courtenay, Quality Foods Comox and Peninsula Co-op (Comox).
Originally published by the Comox Valley Record, April 4, 2022
Andrea Rose, Special to The Record
Jason and Haley Lutter and their son Henrik – who goes by ‘Henry’ – were introduced to YANA during an appointment at their accountant’s office. In an off-topic conversation about a torticollis diagnosis Henry was given at just a few weeks old, Jason’s accountant, who was familiar with YANA’s programs, suggested they reach out for the upcoming trips the family would be making to Victoria in the coming months, part of the therapy to treat Henry’s condition.
Torticollis is a postural issue where the muscle on one side of the neck is shorter than on the other side, causing a variety of physical challenges and often requiring physiotherapy and intervention to ensure it’s corrected early. Along with regular physiotherapy appointments locally for nearly two years, the family was also required to make multiple trips to Victoria for a special helmet therapy.
“When (Henry) was first diagnosed I don’t think we understood fully what it might entail,” said Haley. “I think, in my mind, it was going to be a couple month thing and it would be resolved…he had some gross motor delays, and as well as why we ended up needing to access YANA was for the helmet therapy.”
Henry is the couple’s first child, and along with learning and adapting to the overwhelming newness of parenthood, they were also learning how to support Henry’s condition, managing multiple appointments, doctors, and eventually, overnight trips down-Island. After a short visit to the office for a simple intake, YANA quickly stepped in to help by taking care of many of the details and allowing them to focus on their child.
“The financial support was obviously huge, but for me, (it was) just having other people we could talk to and logistically make plans where we could stay,” said Jason. “I was really appreciative of YANA for making the actual bookings and scheduling that part out. That took a huge weight off our shoulders so that we could actually focus on preparing for the physio.”
Haley agreed with Jason, explaining that it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“When you’re dealing with all other stresses… anything that can be taken off your plate is a really big deal. I was on maternity leave at the time and Jason was changing careers at the time, so it kind of came at a time of more financial stress for us too.
Haley said at first, she felt like they might not qualify for support.
“When Laura first said YANA, I thought, ‘no, no, that’s not for us, that’s for families with extreme financial need.’ I think it is nice that it’s for everyone in the community, it’s all inclusive. It’s awesome that it’s mostly community members supporting their own community, it’s really special.”
Access to YANA’s support is a low-barrier process for any family required to leave the community to access medical care for a child or pregnant mother.
For Jason and Haley, this meant the organization took care of arranging accommodations for each trip they made to Victoria, as well as providing funding to help alleviate some of the costs of traveling and being away from home.
“It was amazing how easy it was. We just told them when we were going to be down there and they just booked it for us,” Jason explains, suggesting that YANA, which stands for “You Are Not Alone,” couldn’t be a more fitting name for the organization that not only relieved some of the logistical stress for them, but also provided them with a sense of community and support.
“It is a good title for the organization. It does make you feel like you’re not alone, there’s people you can reach out to for assistance. It made us feel like we were not alone.”
Henry doesn’t have to make any more trips to Victoria, and he’s nearing the end of his physiotherapy sessions locally. YANA was there for Henry and his family during the months they needed to travel for his medical care, providing them with a sense of comfort from their community that no matter how short or long the road, they didn’t have to walk it alone.
For more information and to find out where you can purchase your Valley Vonka chocolate bars, for a chance to win a golden ticket and the gift of support for YANA families, visit: https://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/community/comox-valley-record-launches-valley-vonka/
Originally published by the Comox Valley Record, March 30, 2022
Andrea Rose, Special to the Record
If you were to meet 11-year-old Nikko Segriff you’d immediately see a bright, sparkly-eyed boy with the most infectious mile-wide smile. Nikko loves reading, sports, and playing practical jokes on his parents, and while he always finds a reason to be happy, life hasn’t always been and isn’t always, easy.
Nikko’s life in Canada was off to a rocky start before his second birthday. Kathy and Lino adopted Nikko from an orphanage in southern Vietnam. Prior to arriving the couple was made aware that he had a pre-existing condition which meant he had a tracheostomy in place to assist with breathing.
As far as they understood Nikko would be able to have his trach removed in Canada, and was otherwise 100 per cent healthy, ready to travel to his new home in the Comox Valley.
After a number of months in Vietnam, Kathy and Nikko boarded their flight to Canada, accompanied by a friend who was providing them with extra support for the journey home. During the flight, though, Nikko took a turn for the worse.
“Nikko’s lungs were filled to the rim with infection and with the cabin pressure, he couldn’t breathe, and all of sudden, all this infection was coming out of his trach,” explains Kathy.
“We had to do a blow-by with the oxygen for seven hours to keep him alive,” Kathy recounts, acknowledging what a miracle it was that he made it to the emergency landing where the paramedics met them on board the plane.
Nikko was eventually flown to Victoria General Hospital where he would stay for the next 12 weeks with his mom and older brother, Kalin, by his side.
“It turned out he had a millimetre of airway in his trachea, so the trach was not coming out anytime soon,” says Kathy, who was finding it more and more difficult to cope with the reality that was unfolding around her.
Kathy knew about the support available back home from YANA, but she was finding herself reluctant to reach out for help. The trips and costs began to add up, and so did the stress and challenges of the long and lonely journey. After a number of emails and offers for help from someone at YANA that knew Kathy and her situation, Kathy finally found the courage to reach out for support.
“Of course I knew about YANA, but it was really slow for me to connect the dots that I needed YANA. I kept thinking that it was something that I should leave for other people,” explains Kathy.
“I was the person who would go to fundraisers, I was the person that was donating…I did all that as a single person, and then all of a sudden I was a mother.”
It was during Kathy’s first visit to the YANA office that she felt she could finally unravel and admit just how hard it had become being a mother who was caring for a sick child.
“It was the first I’d sort of said… ‘I’m scared.’ It was the first time I said, ‘this is really hard,’ things that you can’t share with medical staff because they’re just trying to do the medical things, and you can’t share it with sometimes anyone else, because other people that you’re around have sick kids too.”
There was a sense of relief and belonging for the family after embracing the support and community that came along with no-strings-attached assistance for travel and accommodations. YANA provided the family with daily funding each time they were away, as well as covering the costs of Jeneece Place and the various hotels they stayed at over the years.
“It very quickly became obvious, as cliché as the title is, that I wasn’t alone anymore. It wasn’t the money part of it.”
Kathy shares that while they may have been able to find an alternative to offset the costs of the regular trips to Victoria without YANA’s support, any option available would have put a huge additional strain on everyone.
“At some point I think I just decided that when I could start being able to help again, that I would, and that kind of released me about the guilt I was feeling from accepting financial support,” explains Kathy.
“When I contact YANA and I have another appointment, there’s someone who knows this is my fifth appointment in one month…somebody knows the little markers of your bigger journey.”
Nikko’s journey and challenges continue even with the major strides he’s made with his health over the years. Nikko has chronic lung deficiency as well as permanent scarring from the trach and the infection in his lungs, limiting his lung capacity and requiring him to pace himself during physical activity. After 14 or 15 surgeries to his trachea and lungs, Nikko now has 100 per cent airway and can eat and drink, and he’s getting stronger every day.
“He’s a happy kid. He’s never looking for anything to make him unhappy. He sort of sees the humour in everything, and he’s always been easy to be a mom to,” Kathy says about her son, who lights up their home with laughter and jokes every day, and is finally able to participate in gym class at school and extracurricular activities like volleyball.
“He’s so athletic,” Kathy boasts, amazed at just how far he’s come.
Nikko’s older brother Kalin, who was adopted from the opposite side of Vietnam before Nikko, has been a huge supporter for his brother through the journey and all of his surgeries and challenges along the way. The family continues to feel the love from their community from the overwhelming gift of support after nearly eight years and 40 trips they made, and continue making since connecting with YANA.
Nikko’s family was lovingly supported through countless procedures, surgeries, and routine appointments in Victoria. Because of this special, generous community, YANA was able to assure them that through their most difficult days and fearful moments, no matter how many appointments, trips, or years that go by, they would be by their side, letting them know, “You Are Not Alone.”
To find out where you can purchase your Valley Vonka Chocolate bars in support of YANA, visit: https://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/community/comox-valley-record-launches-valley-vonka/
Originally published by the Comox Valley Record, March 23, 2022
By Andrea Rose, Special to the Record
Looking at 3 year old Aaron Hong, you wouldn’t think that only 6 short months ago he was reaching the end of an aggressive chemotherapy treatment to battle a leukemia diagnosis he was given in the winter of 2021.
It was early in the new year that Aaron’s routine blood work started showing a decline in his platelet count. Otherwise a healthy, energetic toddler, Aaron didn’t come across as being unwell, but concerns grew as symptoms like fatigue and bruising began appearing and Aaron’s platelet count continued declining.
The family was referred to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver to investigate his symptoms further. The doctor who saw Aaron commented on how healthy Aaron appeared, lending some optimism to the family who was remaining hopeful, although anxious for answers. But the phone call they received shortly after leaving the hospital was not the news they were hoping for.
Shortly after their appointment, Aaron’s parents, Michelle and Chenyu, received a phone call from the doctor, “I usually don’t like to tell people this over the phone, but the blood results look like he has leukemia,” Michelle recalled him saying, “he needs to be admitted right away.”
“It felt like a death sentence.” said Michelle, describing how it felt during the first moments they learned of Aaron’s diagnosis, admitting she really didn’t know much about Leukemia then.
“I always knew in the back of my mind that low blood-platelets are associated with possible leukemia, but I think it was just so early it was hard for them to see.” she explained. “I asked how long we have to be in hospital for, he said, ‘he needs to be inpatient full-time for 6 months’. I lost it. I really couldn’t imagine doing this for 6 months.”
No family can imagine or prepare themselves for this kind of news, wrought with uncertainty and difficult decisions. The family had left behind a busy life, along with their older son Theo who stayed behind in the care of his grandparents. There would be no returning home for a while; Vancouver would become their home-away-from-home and there was no choice but to figure out a path forward.
Friends from the community suggested the family reach out to YANA for support, and soon after a social worker connected Michelle and Chenyu with the organization that would walk alongside them and support them every step of the way.
Aaron’s prognosis was really good, and after the 2nd and most intense cycle Aaron cruised through his treatment. Aaron has Down syndrome, and Michelle pointed out that while it isn’t uncommon for children with Down syndrome to have greater challenges with their immune system, Aaron continued to overcome obstacles.
“Even throughout the treatment, I still thought of him as a well child, although he had this serious disease,” said Michelle, who describes Aaron’s nature as being strong and resilient, even learning to walk for the first time in the halls of BC Children’s Hospital with the help of his parents and an IV pole.
“He just needs mama and papa”, Michelle said. “He was so little so he didn’t really mind being in the hospital as much as we did. All he cared was that we were there with him, we were his most important people.”
Aaron had his mama and papa there with him by his side, every step of the way, thanks to their community, family and YANA who helped make that possible. Along with monthly funding, YANA also provided the family with one of their furnished, downtown apartments within walking distance of BC Children’s Hospital.
“The apartment was exactly what we needed.” says Michelle. “More than what we needed.”
Michelle and Chenyu took turns being by Aaron’s side and staying in the apartment over the 7 months they spent in Vancouver. The apartment became a simple, safe sanctuary where they could recharge, cook, and come together as a family when Aaron was eventually given the green light for short visits. The short visits eventually led to longer visits back to the Valley until the family was finally able to return home last September.
Aaron and his family continue making trips to Vancouver as part of his ongoing care, and YANA continues to provide funding and support for every trip, and the family has no doubt about how special an organization it is to continue to be there every step of the way.
“It’s above and beyond. People were so jealous hearing about what we have…a lot of people are from out of town. We haven’t really talked to anyone else who’s had this.” says Michelle.
Aaron and his family needed to stay in Vancouver for 7 long months. Thanks to the incredible support of a community that deeply cares, YANA is able to say ‘yes’ to families like Aaron’s and countless others. YANA is able to let them know that however long they need to be away in order to be by their child’s side, no matter what, “You 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 and to find out where you can purchase your Valley Vonka chocolate bars, visit: https://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/community/comox-valley-record-launches-valley-vonka/
Comox Valley, we did it again.
We counted once, we counted twice, we even counted a few more times after that because we could hardly believe our eyes, because together, we raised over and above last year’s shocking grand total, with the final total for the 2022 Big Love Benefit coming in at a whopping $186,000!!
We are in awe, we are grateful, and we are certain all over again of what kind of community it is that we live in: a community that overcomes all obstacles, a community that loves beyond what is required, a community that always, always shows up.
The support YANA provides families would simply not be possible without each and every single one of you. To every sponsor, donor, volunteer, raffle-ticket purchaser, auction bidder, and supporter of this important event, thank you, from the bottom of our very full hearts.
Join us for the 2022 Big Love Benefit, YANA’s largest annual fundraiser and auction in support of Comox Valley families!
One ticket has everything you need to participate in both the online auction and live-broadcast event. Purchase your ticket here by making a donation of any amount and receive exclusive access to:
- Shop the online auction open February 15th – 25th, filled with over 200 amazing items, from lavish gift baskets featuring local products to destination packages, art, gift cards, and so much more.
- Attend the virtual gala on February 25th, beginning at 5:30pm with an interactive cocktail hour, 50/50 & WestJet draws, a moving presentation by Karen McKinnon highlighting one of our YANA families, and the always-exciting live-auction to wrap up this incredible night.
- Purchase deliciously curated food and beverage packages offered by our Big Love Select Vendors, offering you an extra-special experience from wherever you tune in to this year’s event.
We look forward to gathering together to show families and the community just how big our love really is!
For more information and to purchase your Big Love Benefit tickets, visit: https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com/yana-event/auction/
Dear friends and supporters,
With the Jan. 18th PHO announcement indicating that current restrictions will remain in place until February 16th and reviewed at that time, we have no other choice but to move our Big Love Benefit online for a fully virtual event. As much as we hoped to gather together, hug, and see your beautiful faces in person at this year’s Big Love Benefit, we are counting on another knock-out fundraiser one way or another with the support of this incredible community behind us!
Tickets for this live broadcast event will go on sale January 23rd at 10am and will be available for purchase by making a tax-receiptable donation of any amount. All ticket donations will be matched dollar for dollar up to $15,000 thanks to our generous Donation Matching Sponsor, Brian McLean Chevrolet Buick GMC Ltd.
Your virtual ticket includes links to the live-broadcast event, as well as the online auction which runs February 15th to 25th. This year’s auction features thousands of dollars worth of items to bid on, from lavish gift baskets featuring local products to destination packages, art, jewellery, and so much more, the incredible inventory of prizes is all thanks to the donations from many businesses and individuals from the Comox Valley and beyond!
All attendees will also have exclusive access to unique and delicious food and beverage packages curated by our Big Love Select Vendors including Cheffanie, Jam & Co. Luxury Picnics, Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community and Blackfin Pub, for an extra-special at-home experience while you tune in to this year’s event!
For more information and to purchase event tickets on sale January 23rd, please visit: https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com/yana-event/auction/
Roll out the red carpet! The 2022 Big Love Auction will take place on February 25th at our signature venue (location to be determined) for both an in-person gathering and a live-streamed broadcast event. Anyone can join in and support YANA families and their children, however they choose, for an unforgettable night of celebration and community spirit.
After a year of re-inventing, and then re-inventing again, adapting to change seems to be the name of the game these days. This year’s hybrid event will include the most loved elements of the Big Love Benefit Gala, with the virtual participation option making it possible for anyone, anywhere, to join in the magic this night brings.
**New Provincial Health orders in effect until January 18th for gatherings will impact this event if they are not lifted or loosened at the end of the timeframe of the current order. Stay tuned for an update on this page after the January 18th announcement, and note that we will be delaying ticket sales until Sunday, January 23rd, at 10am in order to accommodate these new orders.
Tickets will be available in groups of 8 and can be purchased online beginning January 23, 2022 at 10:00am. These hot tickets sell out and you’ll want to act fast!
There are other great ways to support this year’s Big Love event:
- Purchase a raffle ticket for a WestJet Flight for two or 50/50 draw, the winner’s half was over $10,000 last year, so every ticket purchased is a big WIN-WIN! Flight tickets are good for one round trip flight for two guests to any regular scheduled and marketed WestJet destinations. (*No cash value. Fees, taxes, surcharges not included. Blackout dates and restrictions apply).
- Donate to our online auction or make a donation of any amount to receive access to bid on items on February 15th when bidding goes live.
- Sponsor this integral event and help make donations go even further, right back to YANA families and their children.
- Volunteer and be a part of the collective effort to make this vital fundraiser a success. We couldn’t do this without the many hands that make it all possible!
This year’s Christmas Cracker grand-prize winner has been revealed! A huge congratulations goes to Sandra Hickman who snapped the winning cracker over the holidays.
The winning cracker was purchased at Quality Foods in Comox as a Christmas Gift. Sandra’s family decided this year that instead of exchanging presents, they would exchange gifts of impact to a local charity, a gift they couldn’t have guessed would contain the grand-prize; a gorgeous set of diamond rings. Sandra is familiar with non-profit work through her work with national charity, Threads of Life, who help families who have experienced a workplace tragedy. It was an easy choice to give back to the community and support YANA in lieu of traditional Christmas gifts, knowing first-hand the difference every donation makes.
All 5000 crackers sold out at businesses across the Comox Valley and through our online store. A huge thanks goes out to our distribution partners, Edible Island Whole Foods Market, Quality Foods Courtenay, Tin Town Cafe, John’s Your Independent Grocer, Quality Foods Comox, Comox Community Centre, and Seeds Food Market, as well as all of the crafters, volunteers, and everyone who purchased a crackers in support of YANA and the families we help. 100% of cracker sales goes directly back into YANA’s travel and accommodation programs thanks to a generous, anonymous donor for this year’s fundraiser.
Check back next year (and early!), you just might be the next lucky winner!