Holly & Xander’s Story

Investing in Our Tomorrow

When Holly and her children first moved to Vancouver in 2007, they lived in a crowded three-bedroom basement suite with relatives. Eventually, they found housing in the Strathcona neighbourhood right around the corner from UGM. Since venturing through the doors for a meal, UGM has been a core part of their lives. “When we started coming to UGM, the Women & Families building was just a little house on Hastings,” Holly remembers. “We’d go there for dinner every day. It made life a lot easier because I met other parents going through the same struggles. Having a community where you can get help does so much for families.” 

While having dinner at UGM, Holly found out about UGM’s Eastsiders Homework Club—a fun and safe after-school program where kids can connect with friends, receive academic support, learn new skills, and go on field trips across Metro Vancouver. “I was excited there was this program, so I signed my kids up right away,” Holly shares. Over the years, all five of Holly’s children have attended the program—which has positively impacted them. “I’ve seen how much my kids have grown because of it, and how they’ve come out of their shells.” 

Holly is especially grateful for the deep relationships her kids have developed with UGM’s Children’s Outreach Workers through Eastsiders and The SPACE for teens. Because leaders usually walk alongside families for years, these after-school connections often evolve into life-giving mentorships. “The staff have impacted them so much—like Thomas. He’s watched all my kids grow up,” she says. “They almost passively call Thomas the dad they didn’t have, because he’s the one who has been there for my boys, and shown them how to be men.” 

Xander with his siblings

Xander, Holly’s eldest son, was three when they first connected with UGM. He’s now 16, and over the years, Thomas’ care and commitment have been so significant to him. “I’ve learned a lot from Thomas. He taught me how to ride a bike, and he’s taught me how to code. He’s always been there to help with things,” Xander shares. For Thomas, being there for Xander has been just as meaningful: “It has been incredible to see him grow. He has surpassed me in height (easily), but more importantly it is amazing to see the kindness that he shows, the care he has for his family, the maturity he demonstrates, and how incredibly smart and clever he is.”

Beyond receiving meals and participating in children and teen’s programming, UGM’s support has also allowed Holly and her children to experience family summer camp at places like Keats Camp, and Camp Sunrise. “My kids love going—it’s their favourite thing to do,” she shares. Holly says that the variety of activities, and her kids’ freedom to choose what to participate in has been valuable and placed confidence in them: “Camp gives them the chance to do things I wouldn’t do, like climbing the jungle gyms in the trees. Being able to do those different things has helped them become more independent.”

Going to camp has always been one of Xander’s favourite parts of UGM, and has instilled in him a love for nature. “I like having time away from the city and being in the quiet,” he explains. Last year, that appreciation drew Xander to join Take A Hike, an alternative education program. Embedded in his school year are counselling, community service, and regular wilderness adventures—incredibly empowering Xander with the skills to graduate high school next year, the resiliency to navigate through adulthood, and the fortitude to achieve success beyond.

As Xander looks toward the future, he looks back at all of the compassion that’s guided him in becoming the young man he is today—and hopes to make a similar positive impact in other people’s lives. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a cop. I’ve just always wanted to see a world without pain,” he shares. Holly has so much pride in all her children, and knows that their intelligence and resourcefulness will lead to a bright future. “Holly is such a strong mother who cares so deeply for her family, and is inspiring in the way she supports her kids,” Thomas says. “I am so lucky to be part of their lives, and am ever so excited for what their future holds.”