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Bowen's stories of giving in 2020: arts, health, student philanthropy and more

This island has many volunteers, many acts of kindness and many people who've stepped up over the past 10 months. Here are just some of those stories.
BICS students holding a 'kindness parade on Trunk Rd.
Bowen Island Community School students held a parade of kindness that passed in front of the Undercurrent office Wednesday afternoon. They stopped to cheer on some of Santa’s helpers putting up Light Up Bowen decorations. Murray Atherton photo

Every year, in the last week of November, we ask Bowen Islanders for their stories of kindness and giving. The holiday season offers the opportunity to celebrate Bowen Islanders' generosity of time, funds, expertise and physical donations. This island has many volunteers, many acts of kindness and many people who've stepped up over the past 10 months.

Here are just some of those stories.

–Bronwyn Beairsto, editor


Our giving nature


Ours is a community who loves to give. 

The people who pick up, clean up, and show up. The people who lead. The people who follow. The people who quietly advise. The people who speak out. 

The neighbour who notices that your lawn is looking ragged and that you are away at work, so cuts it for you. The kind person who buys your groceries because you again forgot your wallet.


We are a species that is wired to help.

 When we volunteer we may start out with altruistic intent, but as we work at the task or cause, we receive countless benefits. Giving makes us better and makes us feel better.

Thank you for helping. 
And thank you for making room for me to help.

-David McCullum


Island Pacific School students raise funds while cultivating humanity

Covenant House provides love and hope to Vancouver’s homeless and at-risk street youth.

They help young people aged 16 to 24 who have fled physical, emotional and sexual abuse; those who have been forced from their homes; and those who have aged out of foster care.


IPS_Covenant_Sleep_Out_2020-1A grade nine Island Pacific School class poses before Covenant House building in downtown Vancouver.


Every year, since 2015, Island Pacific School students have supported Covenant House and their Sleep Out: Student Edition. IPS students go to Covenant House in downtown Vancouver to volunteer on the day of their sleep out. They get a small taste of what it would be like to be on the street as they are given a toonie for dinner and spend two hours in the Downtown Eastside, usually in the pouring rain. The idea is that they are sleeping out so that someone can sleep inside the Covenant House accommodation.

In 2018, Island Pacific School students raised more than any other school in the Lower Mainland and in the past six years have raised $47,928 for at-risk street youth.

In 2020, through their efforts, students raised an amazing $7,735 and one student, Danae Jan, was the top Sleep Out: Student Edition fundraiser in Vancouver.

The grade nine students share their experiences sleeping out —“After being thrown out of their house, running away from violence or being shoved out of foster care, the pain and trauma would be unbearable and almost unimaginable. But by doing this sleep out, it opened my eyes to their world.”

“I had mentally prepared myself for an uncomfortable and wet night. However it was not until after tonight the realization struck me…youth in Vancouver undergo this every night.”

“The Sleep Out isn’t about pretending to be homeless. It is to recognize the importance of groups like Covenant House and how they can help kids like us turn their lives around.”

“Although last night’s sleep was cold and uncomfortable, I am glad to have done it with my class. I cannot imagine having to do what we did last night every night and alone.”

“I think that as a city, Vancouver needs to address this issue. I can’t imagine sleeping like this day after day. I would feel so run down, depressed and lonely. No youth should have to feel this way. We need to come together to end this cycle.”

At a time like this in our world, looking after each other, especially those most vulnerable, is so important.

-Julia McCaig


The giving arts 

It’s cliché these days to say that when the pandemic hit we turned to the arts but it warrants repeating.

On Bowen, we’ve had musicians playing online shows, artists giving online lessons, actors live-streaming screenplay readings. We’ve had talent shows, poetry readings, book launches, gallery tours in a virtual world. We have artists reinterpreting and reimagining our world, articulating our fears and chronicling our experiences.

Honestly, my head hurts a bit from looking at the screen so much but I can’t imagine these past months without artists. Thank you.


On that note, the Undercurrent talked with Hearth executive director Jami Scheffer and program coordinator Kathleen Ainscough about how the arts council and artists of Bowen are faring.

The Hearth had planned a December market with outdoor and indoor components but with the new health orders limiting any sort of gathering, crowd control for an outdoor market became difficult said Scheffer. The indoor market is still a go but resembles more of a gallery show with about a dozen artists participating and the artists won’t be on hand. The Hearth is also expanding its gift shop.

The December art market had an unusually low response, which Ainscough and Scheffer put to a few factors. The Hearth had to reinvent the market a few times as COVID cases rose and restrictions grew.

“A lot of people were trying to figure out how to do their own thing,” said Ainscough. “Artists are trying to market their own work from home, creating online stores,” said Ainscough. “Or just getting another job because it’s not sustainable right now.”


 Pottery by Babette Degan, Giclee prints by Jacqueline Massey This year's December Art Market at the Hearth has a selection of local pieces available this holiday season. Kathleen Ainscough photo


Scheffer noted the loss that’s come with a modified holiday shopping season. “Christmas craft shows in any community are huge. It’s not just a venue for artists to sell. It’s also a social interaction with the community and with the artists and to see what the artists are up to,” she said. “None of that’s happening and I think that that just deflated everyone’s balloons.”

“It’s really hard to get the energy up these days, going into the second wave and just the fatigue,” said Ainscough, who is herself an artist and co-owner of the Catching Stars Gallery. “You’re producing a body of work...for shows and things and not knowing if anything is going to happen with it. It’s very tricky.”

Some are finding creative fatigue while others are finding inspiration in the suffering and difficulty said Ainscough.

“But that’s a different kind of art – it comes from a different place. Less of a celebration and more of a catharsis,” said Ainscough.

“Like a country song,” joked Scheffer.

“Some of the best creative stuff comes out of suffering. So that may be a year from now that that work is coming to fruition,” said Ainscough.

The two also point to a virtual fatigue. “It’s definitely a burnout for all of us,” said Scheffer

“And [you’re] not feeding on that energy of when you’re together,” said Ainscough.

And the future isn’t a matter of going back to the template of yore with a simple change of dates. “It’s reimagining everything, because everything is different,” said Ainscough.

The Hearth is also seeing the economic effects of the pandemic in art sales, ticket sales (as shows haven’t happened), gift shop purchases and it’s affected their bottom line. “We’ve scraped the bottom of the money bucket,” said Ainscough.

Though it’s unlikely the mini gala fundraiser will look like years past, the Hearth is hard at work creating a COVID-era version of the event. “Something that will create a stir and some excitement and, and an opportunity to showcase some artists,” said Scheffer.

When asked about what Bowen Islanders can do to help the arts, the answers are obvious, though bear repeating – buy local, donate to the arts council (or arts organizations) and become a member of the arts council.

Arts Pacific Gallery is offering a draw for a $100 gift certificate. Anyone can enter by visiting their Artisan Square storefront between now and Dec. 20.

-Bronwyn Beairsto, editor


Friends and family help in the face of cancer diagnosis

It was a year ago that I learned I had cancer. From the moment of my diagnosis, I found kindness on this beautiful island at the doctor’s office. I called friends and family that evening and by the next day my mom was on a plane from Toronto and I had my good friend planning the next steps. 

I received immediate and constant support from my colleagues. They created a food train that seemed to reach the whole island through the connections made having taught at all three island schools. I’ve been so fortunate to find a calling that allows me to know the island’s children and their parents, and the meals that were brought to us helped me to gain weight during chemo, because I was eating something different and delicious all the time! 

My friends organized rides to the hospital and took care of paperwork. Another friend started and maintained a GoFundMe for us, and so many people donated so much. So much financial stress has been lifted because you gave. We continue to benefit from what you gave. 

Thank you to every kind soul that brought meals, donated money, gave me rides to the hospital, sent me letters, offered kind words, sent presents, and helped take care of my family.

And thank you to my children whose laughter and closeness brought me such joy, and to my spouse for all the times you dropped everything to give me comfort. Thank you, thank you. You are all wonderful. 

-Victoria van Schouwen


Giving Lavender love in Artisan Square

If you dropped by Artisan Square this summer or fall you’ll have seen a couple of dozen beautiful blue pots filled with Lavender, Nepeta, Viburnum plicatum, Astilbe and Fuchsia. These planters are now bringing some added joy and love to the neighbourhood.


Well women pose with lavender bushThe Well was among the recipients of flower plants over the summer. Photo: courtesy of Tom Matzen
Thanks to funding provided through a Responsive Neighbourhood Small Grant from the Bowen Island Community Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants Program, the Bowen Island Municipality and the Vancouver Foundation these little planters of “Lavender Love” (and other shade friendly plants) now are sprinkled across Artisan Square.


Special thanks to Lynn Williams, Cameron Rolfe, Bowen Island Florists (Caroline, Devon and Chanelle) and my son Tyler for their help in making this happen. A little bit of joy in a COVID-crazed era. 

-Tom Matzen


Giving for our health

May we all be thankful for our general good health, especially in light of these trying COVID-19 times, and the efforts of all the healthcare professionals and essential workers who are helping us navigate these very trying times. Let us also give thanks to all those in our community and those communities throughout the world who willingly abide by the COVID-19 protocols. 

On a happier note, thanks to both the Bowen Island Health Centre Committee and Foundation volunteers for their passionate dedication for a much needed medical facility on the island and to the many who have made a donation to this most worthy cause. Our collective support of this initiative is all the more unique as this amenity will give back 24/7/365 to each and every member of the community for many decades so we can all be eternally thankful. 

At some point in the future we can be certain some member(s) in our families will have to visit our on-island medical centre for some need or emergency and will be thankful the dream was turned into a reality. We appeal to everyone to help put the fundraising campaign over the top so if you have not already committed to a donation please do so now and give us all much more reason to be thankful.  My wife and I are delighted to have supported such an essential need in our community. 

-Bruce & Dorene Russell


A giving anniversary: CAWES 

Coast Animal Welfare Education Society (CAWES) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The local non-profit marked the occasion with a special presentation with BIM a few weeks ago.

“Over the 20 years, CAWES has rescued hundreds of cats, some dogs, some birds and even rabbits that have been discarded in some way or another,” the society’s new (and first) executive director, Kim Sinclair explained. “We’ve trapped numerous feral cats and had them spayed or neutered to help control the stray cat population on the island.”

Sinclair also paid tribute to two women who were instrumental in building CAWES who have both since died:  Iris Carr and Rosalee Parish

On behalf of the municipality, BIM’s manager of environment Bonny Brokenshire thanked CAWES for all of its work.

CAWES is also holding a ‘winner’s choice’ raffle fundraiser where people can buy $10 raffle tickets for the chance to win a Stuart Slind oil painting (valued at $6,000). The winner gets to choose which painting they take home from a selection of the acclaimed artist’s works. 

-Bronwyn Beairsto, editor


That SwimBowen magic of giving

If ever there was a time for reminders of how small, community-based initiatives can have big, beautiful impacts it is now.

The SwimBowen Society was conceived in 2018 with the idea of providing financial support to Bowen Island residents during cancer treatment. The idea has blossomed into powerful action with 22 Cancer Care Fund gifts totaling $28,500 given to date. 

We are in awe of the response to the open water fundraising events and the stunning generosity of our participants, donors, sponsors and volunteers. Even our pandemic response “Un Event” last July with a mere  four swimmers raised almost $7,000. Incredible.


Mary and a swimmer at SwimBowen 2018SwimBowen founder Mary Letson and a swimmer celebrate a successful swim in 2018. Tristan Deggan photo


Part of the SwimBowen magic is feeling empowered in the face of cancer, a disease that can make us feel so utterly powerless. The secret sauce is seeing our efforts in action making a real difference with our neighbours and friends during the hardest experience of all.

Over the next four months you will be hearing a lot more from us as we launch our Cancer Care Fund Community Outreach Program generously funded in partnership with the Bowen Island Health Centre Foundation supported by the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, Community Foundations of Canada, and the Bowen Island Community Foundation. 

We want SwimBowen and the Cancer Care Fund to become household words ensuring everyone knows and has access to the support we have waiting for you. Because sometimes it takes an island to get through cancer treatment!

-Mary Letson & the SwimBowen Team