All big things have small beginnings, and since opening our doors in 1997, Covenant House Vancouver has been able to establish a trauma-informed agency that is respected by the community and frequented by at-risk youth. There were many key players, throughout the past 25 years, whose countless hours, energy, and dedication got us to where we are today. One of those key people is still at the agency, 25 years later, advocating for youth and supporting them in their journeys through life. Meet the lovely Lesley Staiger.
To begin, tell us a little about yourself
I’m originally from England. At age 2, we moved to the Lower Mainland and eventually resided in Ladner. My dad was an engineer, and he built the house that we grew up in.
I am married to the love of my life, Norm, and have a son named Josh and a rescue dog named Toklo.
I love to read. I read a lot. Right now, my interest is about the world and trying to figure out different ways to make the world better. I also enjoy, spending quality time with family and friends, swimming, and working alongside other enthusiastic colleagues.
How did you get started at CHV?
I took marketing at BCIT, along with a friend of mine, and ended up taking a job in tourism. I worked for a tour operator, costing out tour packages for people travelling to Canada. What was nice was that I got to travel around the world. I met new people and learned about different cultures, while working.
Soon after,I began volunteering at The Door is Open — a drop-in shelter, in downtown Vancouver. After only a few interactions with clients, I started to think that maybe tourism wasn’t for me. Around that time, I discovered that my mother was ill. I decided to leave my job and care for my mom, who sadly ended up passing away. This was an incredibly turbulent time, and I asked myself, “What am I going to do?” At this point, I felt that the priority was to find work that I enjoyed.
I was on EI and required to take a course to find out what kind of work I should be doing. After completing the course, EI provides you with a list of places that they thought that best fit your goals. When all was said and done, the instructor didn’t have a list for me, which was very hard to accept, but she left me with this phrase, “See the child within the human.” The instructor said that she didn’t know where this would lead, but to keep the phrase in mind, as she thought that it would impact me in some way.
Shortly after that, I was referred to Jim Edwards, who was coming from Toronto to start a Covenant House in Vancouver and needed volunteers. Despite not knowing what Covenant House was, I felt compelled to learn more. All it took was Jim showing me a short video and the rest was history. Jim was amazing! I was his assistant for a bit, but I then got my credentials to start youth work. I worked front desk for CSS (which I loved at the time), then went to UVIC to take a child and youth care program, then I started doing overnights, and then working days with youth.
What is your favorite part about working for Covenant House Vancouver?
For me it’s interacting with the youth. Just last week, I was sitting in the eating area and there was a youth sitting across from me. We talked about marketing and books that he thinks I should read. It was so great to sit there and have this conversation. All these different moments and interactions with the youth. Anything with the youth!
When you started at CHV 25 years ago, did you think you would still be here 25 years later?
I didn’t necessarily think that, but I did contemplate the possibility that babies were being born who could one day end up on our doorstep. I would wonder about their journey. I would hold them in prayer and wondered if I would one day meet them.
I would like to add that while I have been at CHV, I have felt very supported in being able to continue with my education. I received my diploma in counselling through VCC and completed my Masters in Spiritual Direction, through VST. Covenant House has been very supportive, which enabled me to take time off to complete my Masters, and I am very grateful for that.
What do you like most about your role as a youth worker at CHV?
Definitely working with youth and making connections. I also enjoy working collaboratively with the team and seeing new people come on board who are passionate. I love seeing the passion for the youth who comes through our doors, both from the new hires and from the long-serving staff.
What have you learned from working with the youth?
I guess first off, they have helped me navigate technology! They also make the world bigger for me. Instead of reading news articles about Afghanistan, Rwanda, the Ukraine, Uganda, or colonization, the youth teach me about these places and circumstances through their own life stories. The situations become tangible. They are not something that’s happening out there, but something that going on here — now.
The youth teach resilience and give me hope, through their tenacity, humour and sometimes attitude.
They help me see how we are all connected — like parts of the human body. When one part of the body suffers it affects the rest of the body. We are here to support each other and care about each other right now, in this moment in time.
After 25 years, what has kept you at CHV?
I am always learning something. I learn so much from the youth. They have affected my life in so many ways, which is always shaping and changing my approach to youth work.
Congratulations, Lesley on 25 years at CHV! Thank you for your unwavering passion and support of the youth that we serve.