By: Sonya Hall, Communications and PR Assistant
This year’s VACFSS agency update meeting was marked by a momentous occasion -April Bennett was awarded the 20-year service award.
As the Cultural Coordinator of VACFSS, April is the living history of this organization. April began her career working with parents of young children, as a childcare counsellor, at Project Parent East. In her 10 years in this role, she encountered issues in the community that would inform her practice going forward. Through her work with these young families April realized the importance of the family tree – connecting family and building relationships. After receiving encouragement from a former colleague, April came onboard with VACFSS in 1995 as a Cultural Worker.
Initially, she worked with the social workers, and made many home visits working directly with the youth in care and their caregivers. Through this work, she saw an opportunity to connect the youth in care and their caregivers through traditional teachings. That first year, April organized an appreciation feast for MCFD and VACFSS social workers, caregivers and community members. She developed Caregiver Camps for both foster caregivers and the youth in their care to learn about various cultural traditions, and to bond over food, dancing, and ceremony.
April worked with the kids, to educate them on various cultural practices, such as smudging. She helped to develop a number of drum making and singing workshops in partnership with the neighbourhood houses Kiwasa and Cedar Cottage. She also started the tradition of the VACFSS Christmas party for the youth and caregivers. Always working with a nonprofit budget, community members came together to make donations and provide gifts, entertainment and even a venue. In her 20 years with VACFSS April’s role has evolved, but her priorities have always been to help strengthen the relationships between foster caregivers, kids in care, and their biological families. She emphasized the importance of connecting kids with their communities, and assisted social workers as a bridge between first nations communities and VACFSS.
In the early 2000’s, she started a project to create a video of their home and rooms that youth can take with them to ease the transition to their new home environment. As she transitioned from Cultural Worker to Cultural Coordinator, April began to explore what kind of cultural teachings could be offered to staff at VACFSS, in addition to the youth and caregivers. Several VACFSS traditions were established, including the annual sage picking in Merritt, burning ceremonies, Baby ceremonies and the aging-out ceremony, Honouring the Journey of our Youth. The purpose of the ceremonies is to build the connection between the history and the future of this community. She hopes to communicate the message that we are all one, and we all have gifts.
You can be all that you want to be. If you want it, you can reach for it and you can get there.
When asked what she’s most proud of during her time with VACFSS, April replied that she has loved watching all of these beautiful children grow up. When she was presented with her 20-year service award, the Youth Advisory Council members stated that April had always been there for them, and that her door was always open. After 20 years of dedicated service, April’s passion is palpable. Her message to all youth is this: “You can be all that you want to be. If you want it, you can reach for it and you can get there.”