“There is something about the Filipinos’ zest for life and youthfulness as well as their welcoming and caring nature that made me fall in love with the culture and people,” says Jennifer Stanford, a youth settlement programs leader of Collingwood Neighbourhood House and a Filipino by heart.
Jennifer confesses to having no blood connection or relation whatsoever with any Filipino. In fact, she had been to the Philippines only once in December 2010.
“My very first ‘Filipino project’ was a mission trip with Coquitlam Alliance in an orphanage called BabyAnne’s Mansion in Bulacan. A team of us went over to help pave over the road leading to the orphanage and re-frame the polls for electrical work. I also had the joy of spending lots of my time in the infants’ rooms learning from the caregivers and helping in any capacity I could, as well as interacting with the founders, babies and children and the amazing staff.”
Working with children and youth has always been a passion for Jennifer.
“I get a feeling of joy and sense of purpose in being part of their lives, helping them believe in themselves, empowering them to look beyond themselves and giving them the opportunities to gain access to program that will bring out positive behaviors.
“I am very passionate about Restorative Justice and the role it can play with the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YJCA). The youth has to be educated on the social and legal consequences of criminal records and the role YJCA has in their rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community in a manner that is fair and timely for them.”
The Philippine mission trip in 2010 did not even take very long but already two of the founders of BabyAnne’s Mansion were like sisters to Jennifer, the sisters that she never had. Jennifer does not remember when her first encounter with Filipinos was but she remembers always having one Filipino friend throughout some points in her life.
She perfectly remembers though that when she first started at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, she had one newly-settled Filipino youth who was struggling and was getting into trouble. She met a circle of his friends and pretty soon, she knew the community he was moving around with and the trouble and criminal activity that some were facing. One referral led to another to a point that made her believe that this could not be an individual-based approach anymore. She felt they needed a safe and positive place to gather with her and spend time together. She realized that it was not just a space that was needed for a small group of these youth, but for all newly settled Filipino children and youth.
Thus, the birth of the Saturday Fun Group (SFG), originally called Saturday Gathering Program for grades 4- 7 and 8 – 11. It is through the Telus Community Board Grant that SFG found fruition.
But conceiving it was Jennifer’s and now nurturing it to its usefulness to the Filipino youths is in the hands of her hand-picked Filipino SFG “ate” and “kuya” (Tagalog for older sister and brother, respectively). Something she had done on purpose not only because she thought Filipino “ate” and “kuya” would know best how to handle these Filipino kids but more importantly, the idea of Filipinos helping fellow Filipinos would be good.
“Having been able to put up SFG simply meant being at the right place and the right time to make a difference. I started something small and it got bigger. My vision is – for this program to continue and remain with CNH to provide these Filipino kids a safe space to come, have fun, make new friends, learn and develop new skills, participate in positive activities, and finally, give back to their community.
In an effort to define its own significance, SFG members identified five (5) significant reasons for the regular gathering. They call it their “5 F Reasons for a Happy Saturday”.
Saturday we look forward
to have some fun.
Saturday we come
to meet old friends and make new ones.
Saturday we bond
with a family that cares and understands.
Saturday we re-live
our own culture and native land.
Saturday we take little positive steps
to a bright future we have at hand.
“My hope is for them to love their new community as much as they love their home country. For them to find a balance in knowing and loving both countries. Knowing and loving enough that in the process will allow them to find their way to achieve their dreams and become successful,” says Jennifer.
“I’d want, as much as I can and for as long as I can, to be part of that process. To help find the group enough funding to sustain itself. My team is working hard on achieving that. Actually, SFG continues to be opened to benefactors who would want to sponsor, donate or give support in terms of additional funding.
Whatever little achievement, any smile, any positive activity, any community involvement that we are able to get these kids into are good enough for now. The short-term objective is seeing this through successfully, one day at a time.”
Such goal is not impossible for the young Jennifer. Just in her twenties, she has always immersed herself in other peoples’ cultures (Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos) and found herself using her talents to help them transition or integrate into the Canadian culture even while a student or a young university graduate. She speaks English, French and Japanese and is learning Tagalog and uses this talent in her work, her volunteer jobs and collaborative partnership efforts with various non-profit groups throughout Metro Vancouver.
Every day is helping youth day for her. She supervises after-school programs at four elementary schools and runs a lunchtime program at a high school in the Collingwood Renfrew area for newly-settled immigrant youth and children.
As for this writer, although this is not the first time that I have heard of a non-Filipino loving my country, Jennifer is the first such non-Filipino that I have personally met and worked with. And therefore, whose such love I know is for real and to which I am a witness.
The first time I met Jennifer that one day in May of 2012 was for a job interview, but I emerged from the interview with both a job and a sense of pride. Proud that someone can so love my country as to want embrace its youth and children, but prouder that I am part of her mission of love for my own people.