A Legacy of Giving

One family’s tragedy grows into a lasting legacy for their son aiding victims of war.

Although giving her organization’s money to the AATF wasn’t as easy as she had thought it would be, with a bit of perseverance and some friendly string-pulling from then-General Rick Hillier, Boomer’s Legacy became the first civilian organization to name the AATF, a military initiative, as an official donee.

Maureen Eykelenboom

Maureen Eykelenboom.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Complementary to its Boomer caps’ program, Boomer’s Legacy holds a variety of local fundraisers, such as last month’s gala event starring author Christie Blatchford, renowned local pianist Sarah Hagan and Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, Commanding battle Officer for the Canadian battle group in southern Afghanistan. To date, the organization has raised more than $125,000 to help pay for clean drinking water, food, medical care and even educational facilities and supplies in Afghanistan.

“We’re not trying to be Santa Claus and buy gifts,” Eykelenboom insists. “Whatever they spend the money on, they look at making sure it’s a self-sustaining initiative. Simply dropping off a bunch of presents isn’t going to work. It’s teaching the man to fish versus just giving him the fish.”

As a corollary benefit, Eykelenboom hopes that the involvement of Canadian military personnel in distributing supplies will help make their difficult tours of duty a bit more bearable.

“These soldiers are going to see horrific things. If we can help them to cope with the horrors, we’re doing our job. The medic who just scraped his buddy’s intestines off the wall of a truck because he’d been blown up, if we can help him replace that memory with one of him giving a doll to a little girl, then we’ve made a difference.”

It’s a cause, and a process, that Andrew would have believed in.

Andrew Eykelenboom was 16 when his parents took early retirement and moved with him to the Comox Valley. Although he’d been a bit of a troublemaker as a young boy, he’d by then matured into the kind of son of which any mother would be proud, and the two shared a close, loving relationship.

Some days Andrew would tease his mom by sneaking up on her and throwing her over his shoulders, refusing to let her down and playfully threatening his father that he’d be next if he came to her rescue. On other days he and his mother would race to the living room couch; the last one to get their feet up owed the other a foot massage.

“We had a fantastic time together,” says Eykelenboom. Above all, however, she says her youngest son was a man of purpose.

“He was the kind of guy who knew who he was,” Eykelenboom recalls, her normally determined diction quivering ever so slightly as she chews absentmindedly at her lower lip. “He was the most comfortable person in his own skin of anyone I’ve ever known. He knew who he was, and he had a self-assurance that was so cool.”

When Andrew was in Grade 12 he did some work experience at CFB Comox and decided to join the military. Although he initially wanted to enlist as a firefighter, he instead signed up as a medic and headed back to Edmonton to undergo his training with 1 Field Ambulance.

“Then September 11 happened, “Eykelenboom recalls. “I called him up and said, ‘You need to reconsider. I don’t want you to join the military because in all likelihood you’re going to go to war.’ He said, ‘You know mom, that’s all the more reason why I need to go.’ He insisted on going to Afghanistan. He wanted to make a difference. Like so many of them, he was trained to do a job and he wanted to do it.”

Maureen Eykelenboom visited Afghanistan for the first time in July 2008 to present a cheque for $8,000 from Boomer’s Legacy. While she admits that the experience was “surreal,” she says that it reaffirmed her conviction that her organization and the efforts of her team are making a difference.

“I went because I wanted to meet with the soldiers on the ground, on their turf, to ask, ‘Is this meaningful to you? Are we helping by doing Boomer’s Legacy?’ Unequivocally, the answer was yes.”

While there are several ways to support Boomer’s Legacy, such as knitting Boomer caps or attending fundraisers, Eykelenboom stresses that it’s the greater cause of supporting our troops that needs support first and foremost.

“The thing that is going to mean the most in the future is the recognition, understanding and support of our troops over there, and our troops over here, because the ones over here could be deployed at any time.”

Although Boomer’s Legacy as an organization is committed to political neutrality, Eykelenboom makes no effort to hide her personal support for the Afghan mission. “There’s a bigger picture out there—a bigger, more terrifying picture,” she says solemnly. “That’s why we have to be there. If we’re not there, then how long is it before what is being fought over there is being fought over here? If we believe that it will never affect us, we’re so wrong.”

To learn more about Boomer’s Legacy, or for Boomer cap knitting patterns, visit www.boomerslegacy.ca.