2023 Fall Appeal Vonda

Vonda's Story

When we meet with Vonda on a sunny evening in the summer, she’s just about to graduate high school. In a few days, she’ll walk across the stage, and then have a celebratory hotel dinner with friends the week after. She has a dress picked out: a floral, princess-style gown. “I get to ride in a limo for the first time,” she says, smiling.

It’s a busy time for Vonda’s family, too: after eight years living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, they’ll be moving to Saskatchewan for new opportunities. Vonda’s two younger siblings, her mom, and her dad are a close-knit family, and while they didn’t always have a lot, Vonda remembers her early years as positive. “When we were younger, we moved a lot, we struggled, but otherwise I had a pretty normal childhood. We were never rich, but my mom always made do.”

2023 Fall Appeal Vonda

An artist who loves music and theatre, Vonda made friends at UGM’s The Space teen program when she arrived in Vancouver. She was part of The Space for four years, and her family received support from UGM in the form of hampers and community connection. Like many teens looking to build relationships, Vonda began to explore social drinking and recreational drugs, eventually dropping out of school to be with friends full time. Meeting her partner, Hunter, was a first step for Vonda in leaving drugs behind—and then the couple experienced an unexpected detour. 

“I got pregnant just before my 16th birthday,” Vonda recalls. Supported by Hunter and her family, she gave birth to a baby girl, and picked up her studies again at parenting school Heron’s Nest. Juggling being a mom and a student, Vonda was in her final year of studies when she became pregnant with her second daughter. “If it wasn't for the kids, I definitely wouldn't have graduated,” she says. “If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am.” 

During her second pregnancy, Vonda fast-tracked her studies, and she says that the process of caring for her girls—at home, she affectionately calls them Basil and Zucchini—stretched her in positive ways. “You have to think about others before yourself, which is not something most teenagers do,” she says. “Parenting is definitely a lot of time and energy. And there are some sacrifices, but I wouldn't give up being a mom. It's given me more of a purpose: now I have kids to come home to. The only important thing is their safety. It's a different world.”

With new adventures ahead, Vonda and her family will be missed in the neighbourhood: they’ve been regulars at the weekly family meals held at UGM’s new Women & Families Centre, and Vonda’s younger sister Andrea is part of the Eastsiders After School Program. When asked what has been positive about her time in Vancouver, Vonda thinks about others.

“My mom taught me that you never know what people are going through, so be kind to everyone,” she says. “Getting to know UGM has been so helpful: it's really opened my eyes to the different struggles that people can face. This community gave me a different point of view that I can take with me.”

As she prepares to graduate and move, Vonda is optimistic about the future. She’s still figuring out what’s next—she’d like to study and become a tattoo artist—but for now, she’s going to enjoy the moment. 

“Today is mine and Hunter’s three-year anniversary,” she says. “I have a graduation on Thursday and I get to walk across the stage on Friday. Then we celebrate on Monday. Graduating is something I never saw coming. So I'm very excited. I'm really happy.”

Every day, families like Vonda's are in need of care from the community. Will you give them an opportunity for nutritious meals and care this winter?