In a world where it is always the presidents, the CEOs, or other “bigwigs” that become synonymous with an organization and its legacy, it is quite fitting that the figure who most represents the history and impact of the ASK Wellness Society has had on its community and its clients was never an Executive Director, a board member, or even an employee. No, she was simply a volunteer. A volunteer who has dedicated her life to a cause that many have shied away from or even been afraid of; the battle against HIV/AIDS. Of course, if you have had many interactions with the ASK Wellness Society over the past 28 years, formerly the Aids Society of Kamloops, you will know we are referring to. For those who do not know, this is the story of a woman who has lost over 100 friends and acquaintances to the deadly disease and turned that pain into action to make sure future generations would not feel that same hurt. This is the story of Cookie Reimer.
In the early 1980’s Cookie was living in Lillooet and working in a bar where she met a man who would go on to become a life-long friend of hers. He is gay and every month he would make a trip to Vancouver to party and be surrounded by more like-minded individuals than there were in the small Interior community.
“I started to go with him,” says Cookie. “I met the most amazing people. By 1985 I had met hundreds of people. Then they started to be positive.”
Of course, Cookie is referring to what would turn in to an epidemic within the gay community: HIV/AIDS.
“They partied hardy in those days,” she says. “All the clubs in Vancouver in those days. But nobody knew it was that dangerous to be hooking up for these one night stands.”
All of a sudden what had been normal activity through the 1970’s and early 1980’s, meeting somebody in a bar or club and hooking up for a night before returning to the doldrums of regular adulthood, became deadly.
“It was really unbelievable,” Cookie recalls. “It was the saddest thing. I have been in hospital rooms holding friends’ hands. I have made last suppers for friends that have died. From 1983 to the present I have lost 114 friends and acquaintances to AIDS.”
At the time, the health impacts of the disease alone was horrendous enough, but in the early 80’s the medication used to treat those who tested positive was AZT and other medication cocktails.
“I’m not sure which was harder,” Cookie says. “The medication or the actual disease. It killed them. But that was their choice, period.”
Cookie says going to memorials and getting phone calls of lost friends became a regular occurrence going to memorials. Even as the disease began to slip out of mainstream attention she continued to feel the loss, losing nine friends in 2003 alone.
“One of my friends who died on February the 5th, 2020, his fridge door was lined with meds,” she recalls. “They had all quit working. The cocktail of drugs quit working and he died. Today people can take two or three pills in a day. My friends were taking handfuls of pills twice a day. When the combo of drugs stopped working, you were done.”
Not only was a positive diagnosis a near death sentence for many, but the stigma also that came with it was equally damaging.
“They kept their illness secret,” she says. “They hid their pills if anybody came around. If they were going down to Seattle to party they didn’t take their meds because if they got searched they were turned away from forever. Same as Mexico.”
Cookie goes on to say she would introduce people she knew with a positive diagnosis to other friends of hers and they would avoid shaking hands or even standing to close to somebody with the disease.
In the latter part of the 1980’s, Cookie had thrown herself into volunteerism and advocacy for those who were living with HIV/AIDS. She began taking part in the AIDS walk in Vancouver and had developed a reputation as strong fundraiser from whom nobody could escape.
“Nobody was sacred,” she says. “My doctor, lawyer, dentist, everybody. Nobody was safe from a pledge. Though I did reward a lot of people with my dills and my yum-yum pickles.”
After a lot of time and effort supporting the cause, in 1990 Cookie married her husband and the pair moved to Kamloops where she had plans to focus on things other than her advocacy and volunteering.
“When I moved here I made the big decision that I was not going to volunteer for anything for ten years,” she says.
It did not take long for her to break her promise.
In 1991 she met Alfons Jalink, founder of the Aids Society of Kamloops which he had started in his basement in 1988, and the Society’s executive Director Mary Ann Sandrelli. At first, Cookie held to her initial promise and did not get right back into volunteering, despite the pleas from the Society. However, by September of 1992 she could no longer resist her desire to rejoin the fight.
“A few friends came up from the coast and from Kelowna,” she says. “We decided we were going to do the AIDS walk in Kamloops. We met at the Grind on Victoria Street and there were very few people there. Mostly they were hovering around the BBQ for the hot dogs. Not a lot of walking was going to happen. I said to Maryann ‘Let’s walk around this block and when people ask we’ll let them know we’re doing an AIDS walk’.”
And so, it began. When they returned Cookie pulled out $300 and asked Sandrelli who was collecting the pledge money.
“Maryann looked at me and said, ‘Nobody really does the pledges and collects money,’” Cookie recalls. I said, ‘That is the whole idea – to raise awareness and collect money for the organization.’”
A few days later, Cookie was asked to speak to some staff members of the Aids Society about how they should go about fundraising.
“And I went ‘here it goes,’” she says. “So, I talked it over with my husband and he said, ‘you’re not going to be happy if you’re not doing this.’”
Cookie met with the Society staff members and gave them a “rah-rah” speech about what they do in Vancouver. After that, Sandrelli kept in touch with Cookie, asking her to join the board of directors or any other way she could keep her involved.
It wasn’t long before Cookie was in the office every Monday, cooking meals for the Society’s clients who by this time were not just those with HIV/AIDS diagnoses, but anybody who needed a helping hand.
“It was a really mixed bag of people who were down and out and the Aids society was an open door,” she says. “The New Life Mission also served meals, but you had to listen to a sermon before you got fed. Salvation Army also served a meal. Then the United Church started. There were only a few places you could get a meal.”
Initially, Cookie was told she would only be cooking for about ten to twelve people. That rang true for a couple of months. Soon after that, as word spread of the great meals churning out of Cookie’s kitchen, the number of mouths to feed grew to over a hundred. As is always the case though, no good deed goes unpunished.
“The health department came along because we didn’t have a dishwashing system, we just had volunteers who washed the dishes,” she says. “I said to the now Mayor of Kamloops, Ken Christian, because he was the public health guy, ‘Are you kidding me? These people live on the street. They’re eating out of dumpsters. We’re serving them a meal on a clean plate. It doesn’t have to be with a dishwasher.’ Anyway, he shut us down. I was so annoyed. I wrote a huge letter to the editor. But anyway, that stopped.”
While the meals stopped, Cookie’s involvement in the AIDS walk in both Vancouver and Kamloops continued. By the late 90’s she was raising several thousand dollars every year that would go to support the cause. Along with being the top fundraiser, she was also organizing the walk in Kamloops, though she describes it as more like a fair.
“We would get like 200 to 300 people and do it at Riverside Park or Stuart Wood Elementary School,” she says. We would have a band and a really good walk all around downtown. Teachers, doctors, lots of people took part.”
This period was a time of change for the Aids Society. Sandrelli had moved away and was replaced as the Executive Director by Jo Rothenburger who Cookie describes as “so liberal and non-judgemental”. Cookie and Rothenburger hit it off quite well and she was accepted by all the clients and staff, though there were only five or six employees at the time.
Jo served as the Executive Director until she retired and was replaced a couple times before the now Chief Executive Officer of the ASK Wellness Society Bob Hughes entered the scene.
“It was the greatest,” Cookie says of her first memories of Hughes. “The board said to Bob ‘You’ll meet Cookie, whatever she asks for, just give it to her.’” (See a message about Cookie from Hughes below).
As the years rolled on under Hughes’ leadership, the Society began to grow in size and impact. Despite the growth, what Cookie describes as the enthusiasm and aura of the Aids Society continued.
“Bob has this natural way of energizing people and the community embraced his energy,” she says. “His speaking ability and charisma really enhanced our ability in the council and on the streets of the North Shore. It has just come such a long way. I am so proud.”
Overtime, the AIDS Walk in Kamloops and across British Columbia began to diminish. The 20,000 person events in Vancouver now only saw around 1000 people, and in Kamloops the large BBQs in the park were replaced by much smaller gatherings. But one constant remained at the Kamloops events: Cookie did the cooking.
“We get to about 2017/18 and the stigma around HIV is kind of fading I guess,” Cookie says. “Because of the meds, because of the treatments, people are becoming a little complacent. The walk and the rah-rah around it began stepping back. Kira Haug had come on board in the 2000s as well and was an amazing co-organizer with me.”
“The first meeting I had with her to organize our first AIDS Walk For Life left me a bit intimidated,” says for Haug, a former ASK Wellness Society BBI Health Navigator, “Cookie is a force to be reckoned with! From that first meeting we threw over 25 events, including World AIDS Day, HEPATITIS Awareness Day and Walk With Us. Let's just say she knows what she wants and won’t accept anything less! I am so grateful to call Cookie my great friend and family.”
In an attempt to rebrand the event, the name was changed from the AIDS Walk For Life to Walk With Us, but interest and participation continued to dwindle. 2018 would also prove to be the final event that Cookie would organize.
“In 2019 I was diagnosed with cancer and I had a huge surgery and I couldn’t cook,” she says. “But the most amazing thing happened. The ladies, the staff and some clients, they made all the stuff I would have made for world aids day. I was two weeks out of the hospital and they were having World AIDS Day and they were having my food. I was able to be there for over an hour.”
Cookie says 2020 has been a year of recovery for her, and she was hoping to get back to doing at least some of the cooking for this year’s event which will not be able to take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She was also honoured earlier this year by the organization she has dedicated so much time too with the official groundbreaking of Cookie’s Place, a 55 and up housing facility that will be opened in Kamloops in the fall of 2021.
Despite the drop in attention that HIV/AIDS and those who deal with the disease over the years, Cookie, now 74 years old, still continues to spread awareness where she can.
“I have three grandsons. They’re all teens. They know everything about condoms and safe sex,” she says. “They go ‘Oh granny’, and I say ‘you can’t be safe enough.’”
While she still hopes to “get her groove back” when the world returns to normal and hopes to be cooking again for the AIDS Walk 2021, she has a simple message for all of us:
“Be careful and encourage everyone not to be complacent.”
A message from ASK Wellness Society Chief Executive Officer Bob Hughes on Cookie Reimer:
December 1st will always stand as a day that changed my life. I had just accepted my role as the Executive Director of ASK Wellness Society in 2006 and I was invited to come to the agency’s annual World AIDS Day event to introduce myself. During that wonderful afternoon, snow began to fall around the then new offices of the agency located at 433 Tranquille Road as we began the powerful opening ceremony led by Paul Legace honouring those who had passed from HIV/AIDS. An abundance of the most decadent foods filled the rooms of the warm welcoming space that has served as home base for ASK ever since. At the heart of this most compelling and emotional event was one of the most remarkable human beings I have been blessed to meet, our Cookie Reimer.
Cookie has defined the core values of ASK since its inception. Compassion, Hope, Inclusion, and Trust are these values and the ethos of the agency stem from the fight against AIDS. Cookie has and continues to be our local hero having led the entire Thompson Region to understand the impact of what discrimination and stigma had on people living with HIV and to fight for their dignity as they faced the prospect of dying from the virus. She has literally single handedly raised over a hundred thousand dollars for the organization to support people living with HIV/AIDS in the last twenty years and has fed people with kindness and love for an eternity. Our Cookie is like no other and I am so grateful for all she has taught me as I continue to strive to live to her standard in serving my community to ensure no one gets left behind. She remains my mentor, my friend, and my inspiration as I recognize the importance of World AIDS Day and the work ahead to build better, more inclusive, and compassionate communities.
It is so easy to forget where we were 20years ago as the world faced the destructive power of HIV/AIDS. Effective anti-retroviral medications accessible to all were just on the horizon and millions of people across the globe were dying. Families across the world watched as their parents and children were dying within years of contracting the virus. In Canada, the epidemic was still being felt in communities like Kamloops where people had to wait until they were sick enough to access medication and living with the virus was something that few would talk about openly. Shame and discrimination were commonplace and thus many lived in the shadows afraid of the repercussions of sharing their torment and fears. Without the voices of people like Cookie and organizations like ASK, many would have remained hidden and abandoned. It took courage then to fight for the dignity and possibility of those who lived with HIV in community and this has always been at the heart of ASK Wellness Society. To stand up for equity and to speak for those who can’t or are afraid to share their voices.
What I describe here could easily be the words of someone living with addictions today and those that work and care about them. This is the climate within many of the communities ASK works within. Words of scorn and shame are shared on social media for those living in addictions and without homes and a sense of hopelessness among many of those who walk in our doors. ASK maybe criticized for helping these people; for providing harm reduction supplies and saving lives, for finding homes when few others will, for offering access to health services that are hard to obtain, and for providing employment opportunities for those who have not worked in decades. Many of those we work with are consumed by addictions and mental illness and are living feeling hopeless. These conditions can lead the kindest and most considerate to act in destructive and selfish ways and thus these folks can be difficult to support. Finding compassion while promoting personal accountability is how we have approached our work; something Cookie would support.
There are lessons to be learned from the HIV/AIDS movement that can be applied to the challenges we face during this addiction’s crisis. Organizations like ASK must continue to promote inclusive, compassionate, and accountable communities; something the agency did in the early 1990’s when it was formed. Champions like Cookie are needed in the days ahead who believe in people, who believe their voice matters and who aren’t afraid to say they will never give up on the possibility that addictions can be treated and that everybody deserves a home.
On this day, Word AIDS Day, I extend my gratitude to Cookie Reimer and all those who fight for social justice. No one gets left behind…
It was a very unique experience for the ASK Wellness Society and all those who took part in the 2020 Annual General Meeting. Due to social distancing requirements resulting from the Covid-19 epidemic, the meeting was done in an online format this year. Despite the distance between those taking part however, it was still a great experience for those involved and another chance to remind staff and members of the Society why the work done by the Society is so important.
Aside from amendments made to the Society by-laws governing how these meetings are allowed to take place (i.e. doing them in an online format) the biggest changes to the Society came in the form of a restructuring of the Society’s board of directors which included the departure of some key figures in the growth of the Society.
The meeting was chaired by board chair Melanie Reed who was making her final appearance as part of the ASK Wellness Society board of directors. Melanie began her time with the board in 2014 and served as director-at-large, then secretary, then chair. With her background in human resources she played a major role in the growth of the Society as well as a major contributor to the effort to become accredited. Melanie’s leadership will be greatly missed as she steps away from the board and has left some large shoes to fill by her replacement, long time director Dr. Stan Fike.
Another departure from the board of directors following this years AGM is one of the longest serving directors and well-known figure in the Kamloops community, Chris Rose. Chris served on the board for a decade after spending years volunteering with the homeless population and being involved with the “Out of the Cold” shelter program. While the Society will miss his compassion and wisdom, we wish him all the best as he steps away to spend more time with his has three children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Also stepping down from his role on the board is Cliff Thorstensen. Cliff played a key role on the board as he was the only director from Merritt and proudly served as the voice representing that community on the board. He continues his practice as a lawyer in the Nicola Valley with a focus on Indigenous legal issues and those related to poverty.
Despite the losses of these fine folks, the Society is happy to welcome three new directors. Joining the board are former Merritt mayor Neil Menard, lawyer and the first ever director from Penticton Paul Varga, and Londea Riffel of Kamloops.
Along with Dr. Fike and the three new directors, the board now consists of Brad Alberts (vice-chair), Gina Dillon (secretary), Garry Limpright (treasurer), Murray Campbell, and Sean Monaghan.
For a look at the full AGM report, please visit https://askwellness.ca/about-ask/.
In 2017, Chelsea Johnnie was one year into a deep depression following the death of her mother. She began hanging out with the wrong crowd and found herself in a position she never expected to be in: battling addiction, struggling to raise her children, and not knowing how she was going to manage putting a roof over their heads.
During her depression following her mothers passing Johnnie says she would just stay home and sleep all day. She knew it wasn’t a healthy way to live but didn’t know what to do about it. Before she knew it, she was living a lifestyle didn’t ever think would be part of her story.
“I never thought I would be that person who hurt myself just from not dealing with any of my childhood traumas or unresolved issues in my life,” Johnnie says. “I think it had something to do with being around it growing up as well. Both of my mother and my father were alcoholics and I think it was more of a learned behaviour. That’s how they coped with their issues and I learned from them. It’s a bad cycle and it’s pretty amazing to see now that I’m sober and I’m glad that I’m able to deal with that now.”
Having become a mother at 16 years old, Johnnie feels a lot of her self-destructive behaviour came from not having much of a childhood herself. When she lost her mother she was not only angry about that loss, but she was also trying to reclaim some of that lost childhood. She now realizes she spent a lot of time trying to deal with it in all the wrong ways.
“I’m really happy I snapped out of it,” Johnnie says. “It took for something bad to happen though. I did end up in the hospital not long after my mom died because of my liver and my kidneys. I just totally abused substances and alcohol and I damaged my organs.”
With her mother having died of Cirrhosis of the liver, despite having quit drinking a year before her death, Johnnie found herself in that same path. After her own hospitalization, Johnnie was sober for about a year and a half. In that time, she gave birth to her third child. Despite her apparent recovery from addiction, old demons continued to plague her.
“I just mentally wasn’t in the right place,” she says. “Even though I had quit drinking I didn’t work on what was bothering me inside. That anger and pain was still there and I hadn’t dealt with it. I just went through the same emotional trauma all over again.”
That is when Johnnie was first introduced to the ASK Wellness Society and the Adult Addictions Supportive Housing Program (AASH). The goal of the program is to link people who are ready to manage their addiction and its causes with safe and affordable housing in which to live while completing the program. This is delivered in partnership with Interior Health’s Daily Addictions Recovery Program (DARP) and is offered in both Merritt and Kamloops.
In December of 2018 Johnnie’s mother-in-law knew somebody who had been through AASH before so she helped her get into the program. Though they lived in Lytton at the time, the pair had plans to both move to Merritt so Johnnie could go through the program while her mother-in-law was enrolled in school.
“We were going to do it together,” Johnnie says. “She was helping me get my life back on track. Then she got into a car accident and she passed away.”
The accident happened just one week after Johnnie began the AASH program so once again, devasted by losing somebody very close to her, Johnnie found herself reliving the cycle all over again.
“I was totally ashamed of myself after that,” she says. “I was totally embarrassed with the person I became. Like I had no control over my life. Addiction and alcoholism completely took over.”
She began couch surfing and found herself homeless in Kamloops then back to her hometown of Lytton. She would stay somewhere for a while but inevitably she would burn that bridge and need to move on to the next person who would be willing to help. The cycle continued.
“I was known and well respected in my community,” Johnnie says of her time before her battle with homelessness. “I just feel like people look at me now and people don’t look at me the same. Even to this day I know I don’t need to prove nothing to nobody because I’m doing good for myself but there are still people out there who just don’t believe in me and it hurts.”
Losing loved ones, beating addiction only to find herself wrapped up in it all over again, homeless, and running out of people to turn to. This is where the story ends for so many people. But there is something different about Johnnie, and she says what brought her out of the darkness is something her mother used to tell her.
“My mom, she always used to talk about breaking the cycle,” she says. “My mom and dad both went to residential school and even though they were alcoholics they did their best raising us and giving us the life they never had. Even though I grew up in a dysfunctional family my mom did her best raising us and I just want to make her proud.”
Johnnie re-enrolled in the DARP program but admits, even in her second attempt at it, she was not taking it seriously and continued to relapse for the first few months.
“I was scared,” she says. “I didn’t really want to feel all the emotions I would feel while I was sober.”
That’s when she began having issues with her kidneys again and was in pain every day.
“I was scared for my life, I was scared for my kids,” she says. “I didn’t want my kids to have to live without me had something bad happened just because I was selfish in my own ways trying to mask my feelings in the only way I know how.”
That is when something changed in Johnnie. One day she walked into the office of her AASH Life Skills Worker Brenda Major and basically said enough is enough.
“When she figured out that sobriety is what she really wanted, one day she came in and just said ‘I’m done’,” Major describes. “From that day forward, it was just change after change. She started going to NA meetings and AA meetings and really working the program for herself and ever since then she’s been sober. It just blew me out of the water.”
Even with the newfound commitment to her recovery, it was not without challenges. That is where having the support of somebody like Major played a key role in continuing down the path to sobriety.
“When she’d have moments, she would give me a call and say ‘Hey, I’m struggling right now I really just need to talk’,” Major recalls. “Then we’d go and do a one on one, which is part of our program as well, to go see them and have coffee with them and sit there and let them say what they need to say and support them.”
It was clear to Major that Johnnie’s children were her biggest inspiration to continue in her recovery.
“She wanted them to have a sober life and to see what it’s like to have sober parents,” she explains. “She wanted to make life fun so in the program we do bowling and swimming and all sorts of outdoor activities, she actually took that home and now she does those things with her kids. To me it was just amazing.”
Today, Johnnie is renting the apartment in Merritt which she was placed in as part of the AASH program with her kids. She says she is thankful for the support she has received not just from the ASK Wellness Society but also Interior Health, Lytton Restorative Justice, and all the other supports along the way.
“My patience finally paid off,” Johnnie says. “I’m here, I’ve got my home. A year ago I was homeless. I didn’t have a home, my family totally pushed me away, I burned all my bridges and nobody wanted to help me anymore because I was in my addiction and it was a sad thing to see. I know my family wanted to help but in reality there is nobody who can help you but yourself.”
Despite only being 27 years old and having gone through everything she has already, Johnnie says she knows life is short and does not want to waste any more time.
“Every day there’s a test,” she says. “I’m just getting tested every day and there’s something that pops up that’s just seeing if I’m really built for this life of being a mother and being who I need to be for my children.”
As for what Johnnie would say to somebody in her position just a few short years ago:
“Take in what other people have to say because they care enough to put in the time,” she says. “Give it your all. You’re the one who signed up so you have to put in your 100%. I feel like I wasn’t at the time and as soon as I started putting in 100% it was a beautiful feeling.”
How the Kindness of Strangers Saved a Man Who Lost All Hope
On a spring day in early March of this year, Dave Ashburn, 58, was out of money, prospects, and hope while he sat at an intersection in 100 Mile House looking out at the cars driving past on Highway 97. He was contemplating suicide and concluded that he had three options: two involved taking his own life and the third was asking for help.
“I chose to go to the psych ward instead,” he says. “I knew it was going to be a bit of a longer road. The other two were going to be quicker with one taking just a few seconds and the other taking about six minutes to bleed out. I chose curtain number three.”
Ashburn was brought to Kamloops on March 6th and admitted to One-South at Royal Inland Hospital where he spent eight days in the psychiatric ward. During that time, he was referred to the Surge housing program operated by the ASK Wellness Society and run out of Bridgeway Manor on Columbia St. Surge housing is intended to be short term (two to three months) housing for people who would otherwise be released from hospital into homelessness. The program part is of a partnership between the ASK Wellness Society and Interior Health.
Being from out of town, Ashburn was taken aback by the level of support he received beginning with the staff at One-South.
“The help I got from the social worker at the hospital, I think her name was Jenny … she was the one that did all the paperwork and had me set up in less than eight days,” he noted, commending the fast response to his needs. “She didn’t even take me on until the third or fourth day so she got me out of there in just a few days.”
Once at Surge, Ashburn had several aspects of his life he felt he needed to get on track before he could move forward. He would need help with filing his taxes, he had limited possessions, he needed to apply for additional government assistance funding, and he has mobility issues that impede him from being able to look for work.
“I worked for forty years and a lot of heavy work”, he says. “Oil rigs, transport truck tires, heavy warehouses. Basically, my chassis is worn out.”
While staff at the Surge program worked with Ashburn to stabilize and figure out what the next step would look like, an encounter with an ASK Wellness Society staff member doing her nightly rounds of the facility would provide a solution to his mobility issues.
He had created a wish list for himself of what kinds of things he needed to move forward with his life and on that list was a scooter, so it seemed like the universe was listening when one night ASK Wellness Scoiety Chief Operations Officer Kim Galloway stopped by and chatted with Dave.
“I said I think I’m going to try and find a used scooter on Kijiji or whatever,” he says, recalling his encounter with Galloway. “She says ‘Oh, you need a scooter’ I said ‘Yes’ so she called somebody right then and there as I was talking to her and she says ‘I’ve got somebody who needs a scooter’ and it was like bang.”
By the end of the next week the scooter donated by Mike and Dale Lehman of Pritchard (seen in photo) had made its way to Ashburn. The scooter was initially donated to the Lehman’s by the Turner family, also of Pritchard, but it was not going to be of much use to them so they reached out to the ASK Wellness Society to see if it could help anybody else.
“All they wanted was [enough] to cover the transportation cost,” says Ashburn.
Prior to getting the scooter, going anywhere was a challenge for Ashburn. Once he had it, he quickly found himself being able to do things that were a major struggle for him before.
“The first time I got to use it I was able to go to 7-11 and the Dollar Store and get all my shopping done,” he says.
Thanks to his own drive to move forward in life, as well as the added benefit of mobility, Ashburn has now transferred out the Surge housing program and into the Maverick; a transitional housing program with a focus on employment and connecting to community. While he is still trying to figure out exactly what the next stage of his life will look like, he says he hopes to do some volunteering and give back.
“I’m in that place where my mind tells me I can do it but my body says I can’t,” he says. “I have to find work that I enjoy and helps people and that I can do. I know because I am coming from a psych-ward I’m deemed a mental defect by society, but I have done a lot of stuff. I’ve done jobs that people get killed regularly and I came out with all my fingers and toes.”
Along with the ASK Wellness Scoiety and Interior Health, Ashburn notes that the Canadian Mental Health Association, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous have also helped him on his path to wellness.
For more information on the programs noted in this story and others offered by the ASK Wellness Society, please visit askwellness.ca.
Dave is a former journalist and wanted to use his writing skills to show his appreciation for the community that has helped lift him up. Please read his own words below:
I arrived in Kamloops on the fifth of March. Three days after by 58th birthday. Only six days later, I was told by a super busy and highly efficient social worker at the hospital that ASK Wellness could provide me with temporary housing.
Being told you have housing in one week was only the first of many surprises and support I have received in a very short time. To have someone say, “The paperwork is all done. Here are a couple things you need to do to complete the process”. That literally meant the world to me!
Doors were opening. I was suddenly right at the door step of the security and stability I had prayed for. Even during the initial on set of this COVID crisis I received more blessings. In no time at all I was able to get a doctor to continue my treatment for pain and depression. A kind man on the 100 Mile House Facebook site brought my belongings to Kamloops. I must add, he was on his way for some major tests at the hospital.
In a few short weeks, Jamie at Bridgeway Manor helped me clear up two years of taxes. Bringing me up to date so to speak. A couple weeks later she informs me I am a candidate for long term housing called the Maverick.
A day or two later, having a conversation with another ASK Wellness worker, Kim. I tell her some kind of scooter would help me get around. She got on the phone immediately and casually tells me a few minutes later. “I put the word out. Probably have one for you next week”. Sure enough less than ten days later I’m informed that a scooter is waiting for me at the Maverick where I’m now going to on the third day of June.
Thinking I will have to pay at least a few hundred dollars for it, I’m told. It was donated free of charge from some kind souls in Pritchard. The mobility and access to shopping it provides is priceless. Again, blessing from strangers.
When I think of where we I was at and how far I’m come in a little over three months here in Kamloops, I have to thank God for His Providence. Especially how IT is manifested in the actions of all the first responders, support staff and volunteers in the health care system, and the people that work and volunteer for ASK Wellness.
I am taking the time to write about my experience with the ASK Wellness Program so that others may take advantage of all that it has to offer.
I was just an ordinary guy, earning above average wage in jobs I loved raising three kids, with my wife, owned a beautiful 4-bedroom newer home in a quiet suburb of Vancouver when I got laid off and my wife divorced me, taking the kids with her. My life went downhill further and faster when I met another woman, married her then found out that she did a lot of cocaine. I found I needed help when I arrived in Kamloops living in my motorhome, drunk every day and feeling lost, hopeless and useless as a dad and a man.
This is a very, very, short version but enough of a backstory to give the reader an idea of where I was. I had no hope of evening regaining any feelings of confidence, or self-worth. I could not even look my kids in the face. Living in my motorhome, no gas, no license, nowhere to go, no money, no food.
It was 2009 and I was 58 years old. I was looking for help. I thought to find an apartment to rent and that’s where I met the people from ASK Wellness Matt told me of and I enrolled in the course they offered they would rent me a room at Crossroads Inn. I agreed and the very night before I was to move in I got another DUI, the second one in as many months.
Matt and the councilor I was assigned to were very helpful and helped me to get settled in. I went, faithfully to class every morning for half a day for 6 months. It was good for me to build up a routine again. We covered all kinds of information about drugs, alcohol and the effects on our bodies, brains and lives. I found myself beginning to feel again… feel hopeful, nourished, and began talking to my kids. Even eventually seeing them. All this was possible because of the emotional support given to me by the ASK staff at Crossroads. They also helped me get on my feet financially by getting me in touch with the appropriate government agencies.
I can’t express enough how much it meant to me to have the guidance and emotional support to help me through those early months of recovery. I got to know such great people such as Bob Hughes, and Matt Mclean, without who’s help I wouldn’t have made it through.
I received a certificate upon completion of the course in January 2010 and also at that time I was introduced to an apartment at a senior society here.
So I now had my own clean apartment, one I could afford with people within 5-10 years of my age.
I was still pretty raw around the edge’s but ASK gave me all the tools I needed to successfully grow my life starting here. It has been a lot of work but I am still in that apartment building but have upgraded to a one bedroom suite outlooking the park and river.
I am now 65 years old and on a full senior pension. I have an apartment full of new furniture and a big screen, home theatre surround sound, another flat screen in my bedroom. I have reestablished my status as a father within my family and see my kids and now a grandkid who’s 4 regularly. I am an active part of my kids’ lives. I cleaned up my past debts, reestablished credit, did my time in Regional jail for all the DUI’s and other fines.
I can finally say I have my life back, overhauled?
To Bob, Matt and all the others at ASK Wellness during those early ears, I say thank you. I would not have this life if not for you and the program. I am a very, grateful man.
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