Community

Tree lot helps give roots to young at-risk moms

Tammy Munro still volunteers to help out with Aunt Leah
Tammy Munro still volunteers to help out with Aunt Leah's Christmas tree lot on Royal Oak, 20 years after the organization helped her gain some stability when she was a new mom at 16 years of age.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Even though Tammy Munro’s family was a mess, it was an aunt who helped steer her in the right direction.

But this aunt wasn’t related.

Munro had left home when she was 11 years old because of her mother’s abusive boyfriend. At 13, she was signed over into government care. Three years later and pregnant with her first child, she got into an argument with the captain in charge of the Salvation Army group home where she was living and found herself facing homelessness.

Streetwise and savvy beyond her young age, she contacted her social worker and expressed her desire to get on a path that would give her, and her soon-to-be-born son some stability.

The odds were against her. Forty-five per cent of teens leaving foster care in B.C. end up on the street within three years.

Aunt Leah’s Place kept Munro off the street, gave her a chance.

Founded by a former foster parent, Gale Stewart, Aunt Leah’s Place seeks to fill the gap many kids in government care fall into once they hit 19 and are thrust into the adult world without the support that had sustained them for so long.

It does this by providing housing, programs to give them the skills to make healthy choices in their lives and job training to launch them toward independence.

Once Munro’s social worker connected her with Aunt Leah’s, she was given a suite in supportive housing that included help getting daycare for her son so she could finish high school. She says she signed up for every program she could so she could eventually get a job.

“Once the housing was there, that gave me the foundation for what else I had to work on,” says Munro, now 36. “It was quite a blessing.”

For the first time in her life, Munro looked to the future with hope. She set goals for herself, to finish high school, to get a job, to provide the stable, loving home for her son that she’d never had.

It wasn’t easy.

There were missteps along the way. She flirted with drugs and gave up her son for five years.

But through it all, her counsellors at Aunt Leah’s stuck by her, lent her an empathetic ear even after she’d left their charge.

“I felt like they understood,” says Munro. “They always accept you. It’s important to have someone to listen.”

That connection left an indelible mark, says Munro. Even as she turned her life around, studying at UBC then embarking on a career as an infant development counsellor in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, she stays in touch with the people who got her through her tough times. She refers young moms who might need help. And every Christmas, she volunteers at one of the three Christmas tree lots Aunt Leah’s operates every December to raise money for its programs, including one at 7405 Royal Oak Ave. in Burnaby.

“I love the festive atmosphere and catching up with old friends as so many volunteers and customers come back year after year,” says Munro. “You want to give back.”

Last year, the lots sold $150,000 worth of fresh cut trees, proceeds of which pay for Aunt Leah’s housing and support programs.

“Without a supportive home to go to, these moms would be homeless and lose their babies to the foster care system,” says Stewart, who’s now Aunt Leah’s executive director. “We are trying to stop this cycle.”

Munro knows that first hand. She has a rewarding career and her son, now 20, graduated high school and joined the Canadian Armed Forces.

“It’s kind of neat,” says Munro of the direction her life has taken over the past 20 years. “It’s been like having another family.”

Aunt Leah’s Christmas tree lot is located at the All Saints Anglican Church, near Royal Oak and Rumble in Burnaby. It’s open Monday to Thursday, 1-9 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Friday to Sunday until Dec. 23.

 

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