The role of an Auntie in Zero Ceiling was a long overdue necessity. Even at our 25th birthday party, previous Work 2 Live graduates explained that they wished they had Zero Ceiling’s Auntie Anita when they went through the program. They can see the benefits, and oh boy, so can we. Auntie Anita started working with Zero Ceiling in February 2022, and very quickly became a strong symbol of the unconditional love and the safety net that we proclaim for the young people we serve. Providing the Work 2 Live participants with support and comfort, Auntie is there whenever they need someone to talk to, to lean on, or just someone to hold them. 

Auntie provides cultural supports too, doing a blanketing ceremony with each new participant and staff member as a symbol of the love and support they have in this environment. She gives gifts, like so many Aunties do. Last year, she gave each youth in Work 2 Live a gift bag full of yummy treats (many of which she preserved at home herself), and has even gifted medicines sacred to her ceremonial practices. She has had custom-made smudge bowls designed for each participant, and even found the time to teach us how to make bannock!

The role of “Auntie” is critical in many cultures around the world, where mothers raise their children in community with other adult women. Especially in Indigenous cultures, “Auntie” is teacher, disciplinarian, and confidante. She is the safe space you go to, when you start asking questions and confronting hardships. When we asked Anita to join our team as our Auntie, we didn’t know exactly what that looked like; only that she was needed, and that the only thing we would ever ask of her is to provide unconditional love. The rest, she gives us just because that’s what Aunties do.

Anita is from N’Quatqua, which makes it a 90 minute drive to get to Whistler, which she’ll do for Zero Ceiling at least three times per month. But it doesn’t stop there, the participants know they can reach out whenever they need to, and they do. She gets FaceTimes, calls, and messages. Every single one of them knows that they can say “Auntie, are you there?”, and her response will be, “Of course I’m here”. 

For our staff, it’s been a huge help. Providing constant support is exhausting at times, and we’re no strangers to burnout. So to know that Auntie has reached out and touched base, or that she’s going to take care of something for us, is an incredible gift that has helped us exponentially. 

For Anita, upholding this new role has had a huge impact on her life. Knowing that she’s doing something meaningful for people who undoubtedly need it, has had an incredible impact. “It’s meaningful when you can make a difference in someone’s moment, someone’s day, someone’s week,” she continued, “it’s very meaningful, because family isn’t always close by for them, and being an Auntie to them means I’m family. And regardless of [their skin] colour or the spiritual path they follow, I’m Auntie.”

The support she provides is in many different ways. In one conversation she can go from talking to them about educational pursuits, to personal counselling, to establishing healthy boundaries. Each conversation is so different, and each participant is unique in what they need from her. Her aim is to always be supportive and caring, and for the participants to know that they can come to her without fear of judgment. She wants to be a source of comfort for them to rely on. And while she’s not afraid of giving discipline if needed, she’s never had to use it. She’s always been treated with the utmost respect as a person by the participants, and they really respect her role in the organisation. 

We’re so grateful to have Auntie Anita as part of the Zero Ceiling family and we’re so thankful to have this crucial role funded as part of a multi-year agreement with the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction to include this beautiful piece of our support system.

Zero Ceiling 25th Birthday
Photo: Oisin McHugh