Foundation Fosters Change

Gerry & Julie Beauchemin, a “Foundation” success story.

There was at one time a small cabal of disgruntled elderly men in Hedley who wanted local people to believe the One Way Adventure Foundation was a cult. I would have been interested in their reaction had they been present when Gerry and Julie Beauchemin told Linda and me about the impact of the “Foundation” on their lives.

I’m surprised I’m alive today,” Gerry began. Sitting beside him on the couch in their Penticton home, Julie nodded and said, “I was mixing drugs and alcohol. I wanted to slowly and surely die. I hoped to escape life.”

The organization was established in Surrey in 1973 by Len and Jean Roberts, who until recently lived in Princeton. Their goal was to engage troubled teens in challenging activities, develop positive relationships and point them to a more productive life. They purchased the Hedley property to provide housing and free the youths from unhealthy city distractions and influences.

For Gerry, as with a lot of youths in care, home was not a sanctuary. “My mom died of cancer when I was 10,” he said. “Dad married a woman who had 2 kids. She didn’t like me. Her kids could do no wrong, I could do no right. Dad was away at work a lot and my life began unraveling. Pretty soon only kids with their own home problems would accept me. We stole cars and did B & E’s.”

Deeming him out of control in the community, his Probation Officer sent Gerry to the House of Concord in Langley, then to Outward Bound, at that time near Keremeos. Things didn’t improve and out of desperation Gerry was sent to the Foundation’s Surrey location. For 8 months he lived in a staff home, which he preferred over his parents’ home. He participated in the program but continued to create havoc with his street friends. “That’s why Len sent me to Hedley,” he said with just the hint of a smile.

For Julie, home was not a sanctuary either. “My dad was a problem for me,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe around him. Mom kept quiet. My brothers and I tried to poison her. I roamed the streets with a knife up my sleeve. Alcohol, and medications I stole from drug stores dulled my inner pain. When I OD’d, the Fire Department saved my life. ”

Julie’s chaotic, unruly street lifestyle prompted her harried PO to send her to Hedley. “We did rappelling, rock climbing and chimneying,” she said, “also a 2 week canoe expedition on the Bowron Lakes.”

When I turned 17,” she continued, “my P.O. put me in the Foundation’s adult program in Surrey. I lived with Len and Jean Roberts. They became like parents to me. I still call Jean mom.”

Now Gerry nodded agreement. “When I came to Surrey for a weekend,” he recalled, “I went to Len and Jean’s place, not to my parents. From them, and from Jim, my worker in Hedley, I learned about unconditional love. They didn’t reject me when I caused trouble. I wanted to earn their trust.”

When a worker with a Black Belt began teaching karate, Gerry joined. He trained rigorously, and eventually achieved his own Black Belt.

Gerry and Julie agreed participating in challenging recreation and work projects developed their confidence. Observing positive interactions between couples and how they dealt with their children enlarged their understanding of family. “Everything really changed in a big way when I let God come into my life,” Gerry said. “It was that way for me too,” Julie added.

As young adults, they applied to enter the Foundation’s Leadership School and were accepted. In time Gerry became a creative and trusted program coordinator, respected by the youths he worked with. Julie was a leader in the girls program.

With growing maturity and an understanding they didn’t need to repeat the errors of their parents, they married in 1980. Today they have 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren, all doing well. Gerry is currently on longterm disability due to an earlier back injury. Julie has worked at Walmart since 2006.

Leaving their past behind and striving to develop into responsible, contributing citizens has been an arduous journey at times, but they have persevered. “We work at our relationship,” Gerry told us. “And we work at who we are,” Julie added. The aforementioned disgruntled cabal of elderly men might be impressed.

Dianne Watts, A Proven Leader

Dianne Watts

Can Dianne Watts, popular and highly regarded former mayor of Surrey, win leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party? When she announced her candidacy, one front runner in the leadership race quickly labeled her an “outsider.” Outsiders are rarely welcomed by those grasping the levers of power.

In a telephone conversation with Watts last week, I asked if being perceived as an outsider is an asset or a liability. “It’s an asset,” she responded without hesitation. “I don’t have to explain the budget.” She was, of course, referring to the desperate Liberal attempt to stay in office by unabashedly adopting much of the NDP platform in their doomed final budget.

My interest in Watts’ candidacy stems from a concern that the former cabinet ministers, if elected, would almost certainly not represent a positive change from the past. They have said publicly, “we stopped listening to the people.” Steeped in this stultifying culture of political deafness, have they now been given a miraculous desire to listen? Was their initial post-election hand-wringing an indication of repentance, or of sorrow at losing power?

Examining Watts’ personal and political history, I came to understand she definitely wasn’t given a free pass to success. Talking about her early years she told me “I was a classic case of a kid at risk and a runaway.  By age 17 I was on my own. The time came when I knew I’d have to choose which path I wanted to take. Difficult experiences can make us stronger if we choose to move forward. I chose to move forward.”

When she worked on a friend’s political campaign, some well connected individuals urged her to run for Surrey Council. She won a seat in 1996 and in 2005 defeated entrenched mayor, Doug McCallum. Watts needed all her grit, stamina and leadership skills to win over a hostile council.

A former MLA who at times worked closely with Watts said, “She was very good to work with. She knew what she didn’t know and asked questions. She organized a very successful Economic and Social Development conference. Dianne was strong on the anti-gang file. She also did a lot to change Surrey’s reputation as the welfare capital of B.C. She has excellent political instincts.”

A January, 2013 editorial in The Province observed “… in Watts you have a politician who listens to and works for voters, versus a provincial government that does things to voters, while refusing to hear them. Watts name always comes up whenever people talk about who would make a good premier.”

After establishing a solid track record as mayor, she didn’t run in 2014. She subsequently won the South Surrey-White Rock seat in Parliament. “Resigning your seat and running for the leadership seems pretty risky,” I suggested. “Why take that risk?”

Staying in Parliament would have been easier,” she agreed. “It was about my connection to the province. I saw the frustration across the province, the disappointment.”

Looking ahead she said, “when you’re elected, you’re in service to the people. I entered the leadership race to effect change, to change peoples’ lives for the better. To do that we need to rebuild and refresh the party. We need to rebuild the trust. Politics is a mechanism to do the work that needs to be done. If elected, I will work with caucus to develop a viable plan for the entire province.”

What does she believe needs to be done? “Among other things, we need to make housing more affordable. Affordability isn’t just a Lower Mainland issue. We need to give more attention to seniors issues, mental health, addiction, and Alzheimer’s. The time has come to strengthen partnerships between local communities and the province.”

As mayor of Surrey, Watts developed a pretty decent record. She was named 4th best mayor in the world by the UK based City Mayors Foundation. Surrey had the lowest residential and business tax rates in Metro Vancouver. She became known for taking good ideas off the drawing board and turning them into reality.

Watts’ track record suggests she has the leadership skills, understanding of government, and authenticity the B.C. Liberal Party needs to again become a viable option citizens can trust and vote for.

To support her leadership bid requires membership in the BC Liberal party. Deadline to join is December 29, 2017. For further information, google Dianne Watts or phone 604-265-9846.