DP World Community Kinship’s mission is to highlight non-profit organizations that aid the Vancouver and British Columbia community, and show how corporations and individuals can support their work. This time, we feature Vancouver Friends for Life Society.
Founded in 1993 by Lorne Mayencourt, a now-retired British Columbia politician and civic leader, Vancouver Friends for Life Society serves people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, as well as other life-threatening illnesses. At the time the society was founded, treatments were limited, and sufferers were often abandoned by their families and friends. The mission of Vancouver Friends for Life Society, then and now, is to comfort their clients with supportive services and compassionate companionship.
From a Living Room to Home for Life
Mayencourt established what would become the Vancouver Friends for Life Society in his living room, but it was soon necessary for the organization to have a dedicated space. The Diamond family stepped in, raising, and donating money to renovate the George Weeks House, originally built in 1895. Now known as the Diamond Centre for Living, the house is among Vancouver’s Heritage Houses. The spacious Victorian-era house welcomes visitors with a wraparound porch and has the feel of a cozy B&B.
Vancouver Friends for Life Society offers a range of complimentary, non-medical services to support people physically, emotionally, and practically during a life-changing illness. In its early years during the acute phase of the AIDS epidemic, their clients had no medications available to them, and often little emotional support outside the organization. After AIDS medications reduced the immediate severity of the virus, the society expanded their services to people facing other life-threatening illnesses.
The centre offers counselling, massage therapy, yoga, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, reiki, reflexology, workshops, and cooking classes. The services are made free to members through donations by the service providers, who are screened by the Vancouver Friends for Life Society organization, or agreements with organizations such as the Vancouver College of Massage Therapy and the Boucher Clinic of Naturopathic Medicine. During the pandemic, many providers have been able to pivot to virtual formats.
A service beloved by many clients is a brunch held weekly, featuring nutritious meals, and a fun social experience. While the pandemic has changed the brunch format, it hasn’t been defeated. The brunch used to be held as a sit-down, in-house event, but for now it’s a takeaway brunch. Clients can take their food home to enjoy, or, when the weather is fair, sit in chairs on the home’s veranda or lawn and socialize safely.
Supporting Vancouver Friends for Life Society
Ensuring services are free to members means developing fun and creative fundraisers. Until COVID-19 restrictions were imposed in B.C., the organization held Bingo for Life, a weekly game until recently hosted by Carlotta Gurl, “Vancouver’s Drag Queen Extraordinaire.” The event raises enough money to keep the house going, and Vancouver Friends for Life Society plans to resume games when it’s safe to do so.
Other fundraisers include Arts for Life, in which artists donate pieces that are sold to support the organization. An annual garden party with refreshments and socializing will return this summer, if COVID-19 cases continue to decline. Groups and organizations can rent the beautiful Diamond Centre for Living for private events, another funding source that may return later this year. Vancouver Friends for Life Society will mark World AIDS Day, December 1, with an online auction this year, in addition to its annual Holiday bake sale in late December. As in-person events have been severely limited, Vancouver Friends for Life Society has had to make do with less funding in 2020 and 2021.
How You Can Help
Vancouver Friends for Life Society runs operations with three employees and utilizes volunteer support for many of its operations and events. The brunch, serving about 45 members a week, uses volunteers to cook and serve meals and volunteer practitioners for all its services. Donors’ talents can also come in handy, such as people with home repair or IT skills. Vancouver Friends for Life Society also appreciates in-kind donations, bingo prizes, or groceries for its brunch program and cooking classes.
To learn more about Vancouver Friends for Life Society and get involved, check out their webpage, www.vancouverfriendsforlife.ca, Twitter, their Facebook page, LinkedIn, or on Instagram (@vancouverfll).