Crystal Howard was once a preschooler in the child care centre at YWCA Crabtree Corner, and now, at 31, she works at Crabtree supporting high-risk women and babies.
Howard is a co-facilitator of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Prevention Program at Crabtree Corner. The program offers prevention and support for mothers and families with children who may have FASD.
“Depending on the severity of the FASD, these children may have physical effects or brain damage, and they may not understand consequences. A lot of alcohol-related disorders are encompassed under the umbrella of FASD,” she says. “It’s difficult for me to watch how little support these families get in schools and the stereotypes they are up against in the world.”
Howard, who was raised by her grandparents when her parents were struggling through tough times, has battled alcohol addiction and been a victim of and witness to abuse, and was once an angry teen mother who fought and rebelled. She later accessed Crabtree supports for her own children and understands the plights and fears of the women supported by Crabtree.
“I love working with these people; I love the grandparents who access our services. They remind me of my own grandparents. Working here reminds me that everyone has a story,” says Howard. “And they won’t be judged for sharing it here.”
YWCA Crabtree Corner Family Resource Centre provides programs and services for families who need them the most. Located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s most impoverished neighbourhoods, Crabtree Corner helps women and their families improve the quality of their lives.
Started in 1984, Crabtree Corner’s support programs include 12 units of transitional housing for pregnant or parenting women with substance use issues; an Early Learning and Care Centre for children; hot meal programs; Food, Facts and Fun; Saturday Family Activity Program; Nobody’s Perfect Parenting Program; Community Action Program for Children; Single Mothers’ Support Group; Books, Bags and Babies; Violence Prevention Program; Aboriginal Infant Development Program; Intergenerational FASD Support Group; and FASD Key Support Worker. Originally located at Columbia and Cordova, Crabtree now calls 533 East Hastings Street home.
Chantelle Krish, manager of advocacy and public relations for the YWCA, says Crabtree is based on a holistic model and acts as a one-stop-shop for women and children in need.
“Women dealing with multiple barriers can come to Crabtree and find hope and opportunity in so many different ways,” says Krish. “It’s inspiring to see the support these women provide to each other.”
Krish says the most difficult part of her job now is meeting the need. Crabtree’s resources are always full, yet the numbers of people in need, including immigrants and older women seeking help, are rising.
“Our mission is not about us setting a plan for the women we serve. We work with them to meet the goals they set for themselves. That’s why people respond to our services. They don’t feel judged or dictated to.”
Howard, who is mother to Jade, 13, and Ka’leo, 1, says her father was once part of a residential school, and she and her children are a product of that experience. Her mother is Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations and her father is Namgis First Nations.
“I am a direct product of that history, that violence, which brought abuse and addiction. In a way, you feel you are born with the odds stacked against you, but I am proof that you can find a sense of belonging, dream your dreams and go on to help others.”
In 2012, Crabtree Housing served 22 residents and 150 community members, including ex-residents. Crabtree Corner Early Learning and Care Centre served 189 children and Crabtree Corner food programs served more than 28,000 plates.
Classic LifeCare is committed to holding clothing drives and matching donations raised, providing lunch and volunteers and helping raise awareness about Crabtree.
Susanne Sherwood, the Special Projects Leader at Classic, says Classic is committed to helping Crabtree because of its commitment to care for women, many of whom are elderly immigrants who do not qualify for much government assistance.
“Crabtree provides real opportunity for women and their children to have a new start and get their feet on the ground,” says Sherwood. “There are apartments for families to stay in until they get established; they have a daycare so that these women can leave their children in a safe environment while they find work. Crabtree can be the difference between a fresh start and a cycle of substance use issues, homelessness and domestic violence.”
As a child, Sherwood volunteered with her family distributing hot lunches in Pigeon Park downtown, an experience that left an impression on her. Similarly, Crabtree Corner and the work it does impacted Sherwood and inspired her to spread the word about Crabtree through Classic LifeCare.
Howard says she hopes people are compelled to pay attention to Crabtree because of the great work it does for those in need.
“It’s our responsibility to care about the human condition, to let people know they aren’t to be tossed aside, to give them hope,” she says. “When my spirit feels bad, it’s humbling to be working here and to not be out there on the street. I am happy to be alive and grateful to be with my kids.”
YWCA Metro Vancouver raises funds each year to support the programs offered at Crabtree Corner. To make a financial contribution to Crabtree Corner or for more information, please contact Natasha Krotez at [email protected] or 604-895-5789.