Today for Let’s Talk Day, we had the chance to meet the founder of STAND Kennedy Baker, a not for profit organization driven by the need for social change. Seventeen year old Kennedy believes that if we stand up, stand together, and stand strong, we can effect change. We were able to work with Kennedy and tell her story. Check the video out here and keep the conversation going. We also got Kennedy to write a guest post, read it below! And if you want to help out at STAND, click here.
A few years ago my world crashed when I was confronted with challenges that I could never have imagined. In January 2010, I was informed that my mother had been sexually assaulted. This was followed by the discovery that, at 15 years of age, I had lumps in both breasts and would need surgery to confirm the pathology. The lumps were removed in the summer of that year. Not long after my surgery, while out for an evening run, a man pulled up beside me in a van, rolled down his window, and shot at me. A few weeks later, I learned that my estranged father had passed away from alcohol addiction.
I felt completely out of control. Suddenly, the world had become a very scary place. My mom wasn’t safe, I could get sick or attacked, and people could die. For some reason I felt responsible, like I had brought this on myself. I became worried and anxious all of the time, and the stress took its toll, physically as well as mentally. I lost a significant amount of weight and my health suffered dramatically. In February of 2011, I was admitted to BC Children’s Hospital weighing 41 kg (just over 90 pounds). I am 5’8”. I was forced to pack up my things and abandon everything I loved – my family, friends, school, rowing, yoga, running – for what turned out to be a twelve-week hospital stay. My Diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
After three long months in hospital I returned home, convinced that everything was okay. I could finally get back to my life. However, I quickly realized that more challenges lie ahead of me. Not only had my friends moved on, but school was now a toxic environment where I was the target of bullies. Prior to January 2010 I was social, well liked, and felt like I fit in. Now, I was the “The Crazy Anorexic Girl”. The fact that I never had Anorexia didn’t matter. I ate lunch alone, was blocked from accessing my locker, my phone was stolen and vandalized, and I was the victim of profane prank phone calls. I often used music to escape the harshness that surrounded me. Artist like Jack Johnson, Keith Urban, Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and The Luminneers became the words to my recovery. By plugging in my headphones, and tuning out I was able to block out what was going on in my world, feel grounded, and focus on myself. Many of these artists and their particular songs gave me the strength to persevere and stand strong.
The greatest impact from all of these traumatic events resulted from the feeling isolation and worthlessness. Nothing was harder than returning to school and still feeling alone. But there is always a silver lining…
In order to feel valued, like I mattered and wasn’t invisible, I decided to step out of my comfort zone, take some risks, meet some new friends, and maybe find a little meaning in the chaos. One day I found myself outside of room #D104, the student council office. I remember walking through the door and, seeing none of my former friends, I was quietly delighted. No one seemed to know one another and yet we all seemed to share a purpose.
Involvement with student council was great, but as the weeks passed a gnawing feeling grew inside me. We were helping ourselves, we were helping our school, but I knew that there were others outside of our sheltered school-community who needed support. I found myself wanting to learn more, to do more. Student council simply wasn’t enough. The answer came when I walked through the doors of a ‘Me to We’ meeting. This group was my place.
In October 2011, I became a general member my school’s ‘Me to We ’club. After a few months, I was promoted to Co-President. In less than one year, our small group of twenty students raised $11,000, the funds needed to build a school in Barind, Bhilo Ki, India. This will be the first-ever school in this community, affecting over 700 people living in 140 households. I felt empowered. This remarkable, overwhelming experience propelled me to open my mind and discover that my true passion lies in helping others.
In the summer of 2012, while school was out and the ‘Me to We’ club on a break, I still wanted to make a positive social change. I began volunteering at a local soup kitchen in Nanaimo, BC, the city where I live, called the 7 – 10 Club, which serves over 80,000 meals each year. I was surprised to learn that Nanaimo is ranked 11th in a list of the 92 worst health areas for Economic Hardships, and that over 15% of the local population receives some form of income assistance.
Through the 7 – 10 Club I met, and began to truly understand, the interesting, unique, amazing people – street people – who use its services. I realized how judged, misunderstood and marginalized this underprivileged segment of society is. After being diagnosed and hospitalized with PTSD and GAD I, too, was misunderstood, judged, and treated differently. But I was able to overcome my challenges with the help of a supportive family and access to the required health care professionals. The 7 – 10 Club opened my eyes to the fact that many of the people who frequent soup kitchens are not that different from me – many are dealing with mental health conditions, others have faced hardships when they least expected it. However, unlike myself, most of them simply do not have the familial support nor health care access required to change their situations.
In September 2012, when it was time to return to school, I couldn’t give it up. I spoke with my school counselor and principal and together we created a plan that allows me to continue to volunteer at least two mornings a week while completing my grade 12 year. Working at the soup kitchen, and all that came before it, inspired me to fund STAND a not for profit organization driven by the need for social change. Each person involved in STAND believes that if we stand up, stand together, and stand strong, we can effect change. STAND’s mission is to provide support to Canadians living below the poverty line; to correct the stereotypes associated with poverty and homelessness; and to ensure that individuals in these circumstances know they are not alone. STAND also aims to educate the general population about the true causes of poverty and homelessness, factors that include mental health issues, abuse, addiction and other hardships. STAND’s vision for the future is a Canada where homelessness and poverty are no longer issues.