The spirit of giving and Gwendoline Chant

The spirit of giving and Gwendoline Chant

Gwendoline Chant

In the lead-up to Christmas it’s common to ask friends and colleagues if they have finished their shopping, or to discuss what gifts have been purchased. For Gwendoline Chant, a Donald R. Sobey Family Scholar in her second year who is majoring in biology, this time of year brings to mind the young people who may not appear on anyone’s Christmas list.

“The Christmas holidays are a really difficult time for a lot of people who were in [foster] care because it’s a season that’s so associated with family and togetherness, while a lot of people who’ve aged out of care are all alone.”

When someone ages out of care, it means that they have reached “the age of protection”—the point at which the province no longer takes responsibility for their care. This age varies from province to province: in Nova Scotia the age of protection is ‘under 19,’ though a person can only be brought into care between the ages of 16 and 19 if a protection proceeding was initiated before the child’s 16th birthday. The result is that many people who have spent time in the foster care system—a system where placements are not intended to be permanent—are forced to live on their own from a much earlier age than their peers. At a time of year when reminders of loving families, plenty of food and gift-giving rituals are omnipresent, young people who are fending for themselves may feel even more isolated.

With friends in the foster care system, Gwendoline knows how this experience can make a person feel.

“A lot of the people who’ve been in care have difficult memories around Christmas, both from before they were in care and [during] their time in foster care…. The whole time they were in care [they] might never have celebrated Christmas and never received a Christmas gift, even as very small children.”

So Gwendoline decided to do something about it.

“I started this project to match young people who’ve aged out of the foster care system with families who would like to send them a Christmas card and gift.

“I thought that to have a Christmas gift and card is a tangible sign that someone’s thinking about you and someone cares about you. That’s what gave me the idea.”

Gwendoline put her idea into action and the response was stronger than she anticipated.

“I posted in a Halifax [based] Facebook group asking if anyone would be interested in sending a gift to someone who had aged out of care. I was really shocked by the response that it got, because I thought there would be maybe seven people who would want to send something and maybe one or two people who’d aged out of care. But it ended up being dozens of people who’d aged out of care, and many more who signed up to send something,” she explains.

“It wasn’t just in Nova Scotia either: there were people involved in Alberta, Manitoba, in Quebec, in Ontario, as well as in Nova Scotia and even some people from America.”

Gwendoline created a dedicated email address for the project that people could use to let her know they’d like to participate—either as a recipient or gift-giver. Each person who requested a gift was emailed a form that collected information about their preferences—such as their hobbies and interests—as well as practical considerations, like whether or not they have allergies and an address where their gift could be sent. When someone sent Gwendoline an email to say they would like to purchase a gift for someone, she paired them with a young person who has aged out of care, sending them the person’s completed form with all of the information they would need to select and send a meaningful gift. That Gwendoline has been approached by more people offering to buy gifts than she has recipients comes as a relief. That means that everyone who has asked for something can receive one and maybe even two gifts. And if someone who wanted to buy a present finds they are unable to participate, no one will be let down.

From an idea that Gwendoline says came to her on the spur of the moment, dozens of young people will be given the message that someone does care about them, and it’s already making an impact.

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