Easing the Burden

YANA makes sure Comox Valley families are never alone when they need it most.


“YANA believes that a child heals best when supported by the love and care of their family, advice ” says Anita Brassard (left), drugs getting wrapped up in Christmas Crackers at their office with YANA president Judy Cryer.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

A mother’s instinct is a powerful thing.  Fourteen years ago, when Deb Nolan brought her newborn son, Josh, home from the hospital she knew something wasn’t right.  She had mentioned her concerns before they left the hospital, but she was told that all was well—she could bring her son home.  However, Nolan was right about her baby boy.  Her instincts were correct, and it wasn’t long before it was clear to all that there was a problem with baby Josh’s heart.  Within minutes of Josh’s diagnosis, mom and baby were on their way to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

When a child is seriously ill it becomes the number one priority in a parent’s life to do what’s necessary for the child.  It’s an incredibly stressful time, especially because the rest of a parent’s responsibilities still remain.  There are still bills to pay, there are still bosses who expect to see you, and oftentimes there are other children who need their parents too.  This difficult reality is what Nolan encountered when she took that helicopter ride to Vancouver.  She had three other children at home.  How would she care for them when she was in Vancouver with Josh?

Nolan’s sister, Anita Brassard, lived in Ontario at the time of Josh’s illness and remembers receiving the call telling her about her nephew’s condition.  Though much of the phone call is a blur, Brassard remembers the words that struck shear disbelief in her mind:  ‘Baby Josh has a broken heart.’  Brassard also remembers hearing the pain in her sister’s voice, and knowing she couldn’t do anything practical to help.

Brassard also recalls how her anxiety was much relieved when her sister told her of an envelope she was given before she left for Vancouver.  Nolan didn’t open it right away, but when things quieted down she opened it to find $100 cash and a note that read:

Please accept this money as a gift from YANA (You Are Not Alone).

As you start the medical journey with your child this small amount of money might come in handy.  

Please contact us once you have arrived at your child’s treatment location.  YANA provides funding and accommodation for children and their families when they need to leave the Comox Valley for medical treatment.  We would like to chat with you about how we can help your family. 

Please know that you are not alone.

“When I was told about YANA I realized that there were people in the Comox Valley who were helping my sister,” says Brassard.  “I remember Deb saying the words, ‘Thank God for YANA’.   It was a relief for my sister to receive that help, and I experienced that relief firsthand.  I knew that YANA was making all the difference for my sister and Josh.”

Josh had an eventful first year and traveled to Vancouver several times for subsequent surgeries.  However, because of the efforts of the medical staff who took care of him, his loving family, and the folks at YANA, today he is a normal 10-year-old boy who wrestles with important questions like what he wants to be when he grows up.

A couple years after Josh’s illness, Brassard moved to the Comox Valley.  One day she read an article in the paper saying that the YANA Board of Directors was seriously considering dissolving the organization.  She had not forgotten how YANA had helped her sister and nephew, so she was horrified at the prospect of the organization ceasing to exist.  Brassard decided to attend the next meeting to see if there was something she could do.

She wasn’t the only one who felt that YANA needed to continue—many local residents attended that meeting and rallied to save the organization.  That night a new Board was created and Brassard decided to sit on the Board as a volunteer.

YANA executive director Anita Brassard’s nephew, Josh Nolan, is now a healthy 10-year-old.

Photo by Karen McKinnon

Though YANA has always functioned through the efforts of volunteers, it was eventually clear to Brassard and the rest of the Board that the organization needed more permanency to move into the future.  “When I joined the YANA Board as a volunteer in 2005 we were meeting the needs of YANA families out of our homes,” she remembers.  “The Board acknowledged that a sustainable future for YANA included creating a foundation to support our efforts and to honor the rich history from which YANA was born.  The YANA office opened in October, 2008 and I became the part-time Executive Director.”

YANA has been around for almost 27 years.  The seeds for YANA were sown when Sandra Williams’ youngest child, Roberta, suddenly became very ill.  Mother and child were rushed to Vancouver where Roberta was diagnosed with congenital heart failure.  Williams and Roberta stayed in Vancouver while dad stayed in the Comox Valley to take care of the rest of the family and to continue working.  Since Roberta’s illness required long term care, the bills added up and placed an enormous financial strain on the family.  During their ordeal, the Williams family met many other families from all over the province who were experiencing the same difficulties.  Sandra decided that something had to be done to ease the burden of Comox Valley families needing to travel for their children’s care.  From the beginning it was crucial to YANA that the children be allowed to heal and be cared for with a family member at their side.

Amazingly, YANA is the only charity of its kind in all of British Columbia.  “There are a few fledgling organizations that do similar things to YANA,” says Brassard, “but there is no organization that comes close to what YANA does for residents of the Comox Valley.”

Specifically, YANA serves families of School District 71 with children under the age of 19 who are receiving treatment unavailable here in the Valley.

Most parents learn of YANA when they receive the envelope from the nursing staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital just before they leave with their child for Vancouver or elsewhere.  Brassard says that money can be a huge help for parents in such a tough situation.  “Sometimes parents rush to Vancouver with nothing but what they’re wearing—and sometimes that’s a robe and slippers.”

Besides the envelope there is also a monthly stipend that is available for parents to ease their burden.  Having a sick child who is being treated elsewhere can be very expensive, especially if it’s a long term illness.  The monthly stipend is given to the families to use at their discretion.  “We don’t ask the families for receipts or anything like that,” Brassard says.  “That would just add to their burden, and YANA is all about lightening that load.”

YANA also rents four completely furnished apartments that are located close to Children’s Hospital.  These units are for families to use as long as they need—totally free of charge.  This alone can make all the difference to families needing to travel to Vancouver for a child’s care.  Now Comox Valley families can have a home away from home, where they can focus on supporting their child instead of worrying about accommodation.

“YANA believes that a child heals best when supported by the love and care of their family,” Brassard says.  “It can be a financial burden for a family to maintain a home in their own community and also juggle the expense of setting up a home in a larger city centre for the duration of their child’s treatment.”

Everything YANA does is toward the goal of making an incredibly difficult time less so for Comox Valley parents.  “YANA’s goal is to remove some of the logistical and financial burdens so a family can focus their head and hearts on what is most important—caring for their child.”

Since their conception YANA has helped more than 1,000 local families.  YANA estimates that in recent years they have helped approximately 250 families yearly.  That’s a lot of families and children who have been personally helped by YANA.  “The pictures of the children on our website and on our office walls aren’t taken from stock photos from the internet, they’re real children that have been helped by YANA,” says Brassard.  “They are our friends, our family, our neighbors—the kids we see at the grocery store and the library.  Families right here in our own backyard.”

To do these amazing things YANA must do a lot of fundraising.  Every year they create a budget based on their highest funding month, and they go from there.  Normally YANA sets a goal to raise $250,000 annually.  Their main fundraising activity is a dinner and auction held in February.  They also rely heavily on community donations and third party fundraisers.

Another anticipated fundraising event is the YANA Christmas Crackers campaign.  The YANA crackers have been a part of many Comox Valley holiday dinners for many years.  Sue Bowie, the current director of the Christmas Cracker campaign, remembers when the program began. “Initially the crackers were made in the former president’s home,” Bowie explains.  “Friends would come over and help make them.”  From that humble beginning the activity has grown to where they now make 5,000 crackers and raise almost $7,000 from their efforts.

YANA opens its office to anyone who would like to help put the Christmas Crackers together—and it’s quite a process.   There are tubes, crackers, toys, hats, and prizes that need to go inside, and then they all need to be wrapped and decorated.   But despite the job, residents of the Comox Valley flock to the office to help.  “It’s really a lot of fun,” says Bowie.  “People feel good about what they’re doing and so it’s a very positive atmosphere around the table.”

The crackers are popular in the Valley and often sell out long before Christmas.  One reason for their popularity is the prizes.  The crackers contain prizes donated by Quality Foods, and there are lottery tickets too.  But the prize everyone hopes for is the diamond ring voucher that is always hidden in one of the crackers.

Rappin’ Ryan Parton, a local copywriter, raised more than $1,000 for YANA with his rap video, and is now onto phase two of his campaign to raise even more—just by watching his video on YouTube.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Every year Mark Dalziel—aka Mark the Gold Guy—of Comox Valley Pawnbrokers, donates a diamond ring to YANA’s Christmas Cracker event.  Dalziel has been a part of YANA since the very beginning—he knows firsthand what prompted the Williams family to create YANA.

“I used to babysit Roberta when she’d come home from her hospital stays,” she says.  “Really, I saw the whole thing.  I saw how difficult it was for them to juggle everything—it was a very hard time for them.”   As a result, Dalziel has always been happy to support YANA.  “It’s a really neat program.  It feels good to support something that is so local.”

Aside from the annual dinner and the Christmas Cracker campaign, the remainder of the money raised by YANA comes from community donations and third party fundraisers.   Every year there are individuals and organizations who work to support YANA in a variety of ways.  One such individual is Ryan Parton of Ryan Parton Writing Solutions.

Parton, a resident of the Comox Valley for almost 10 years, has known about YANA for as long as he’s been here.  “YANA has always been in the back of my mind, especially now that I have kids of my own,” Parton says.  “I really believe in what they are doing at YANA.”

When the opportunity presented itself to raise money for YANA, Parton jumped at the chance.  It all started when he created what he calls a “ridiculous rap video” where he raps about what it’s like to be a copywriter in the Comox Valley.  The tongue in cheek video—the clean cut Parton is a far cry from the gangster rapper he embodies—was created as a fun way to present his line of work to the Comox Valley Business Network, a group he meets with on a monthly basis.

Needless to say, the video was a lot of fun and his colleagues encouraged Parton to put his video on YouTube.  Though Parton initially responded that the video would never leave the room, he eventually decided to give his colleagues a challenge—raise $1,000 for YANA and he’d put the video on the internet.  Parton was surprised when, by the end of the day, his colleagues placed $160 on his desk.  Within a month $1,000 was raised for YANA, and he had no choice but to air his video.

Though Parton says he’s received good feedback from the video, it’s nonetheless been described by viewers as “utterly embarrassing,” “undeniable proof that he’s a white boy from rural Manitoba” and somewhere between “the worst thing ever and the best thing ever.”

His rap video went on YouTube on October 18, but Parton knew he could do more.  He approached local businesses and asked them to pledge 10 cents per view to YANA if the video reached 1,000 views.   “I’ve been amazed at the response,” he says.  “Honestly, I was hesitant to put the video on the internet, but I’ve had nothing but support from people.  People really respect the fact that I’ve done this.”  Currently, the video is at just under 900 views.  To support YANA simply by watching the video, visit or search for “Rappin’ Ryan Parton” on Facebook.

Through the efforts of all those at YANA, volunteers like Bowie, and individuals like Parton and Dalziel, children like baby Josh can get the care they need with their parents at their side.

“When people give money or their time to support YANA it’s less like charity and more like an insurance policy,” says Brassard.  “Though it’s hard to imagine, if we ever find ourselves in such a position, it’s nice to know that YANA would be there to help.”

For more information visit:

YANA’s Christmas Crackers are $2.50 each and are sold at all local Credit Unions, Otter’s Kitchen Cove, Harbourview Dental, Comox Community Centre, Mosaic Vision, Beyond the Kitchen Door, Driftwood Mall, Blush Salon, Seeds Natural Food Market, and the YANA office at 495 Fitzgerald Avenue in Courtenay

One Response to Easing the Burden

  1. nice!