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'Beloved' Comox Valley charity needs your help

The annual dinner auction for You Are Not Alone has sold out its tickets but still needs auction items donated
JIM AND SANDRA Williams received the Distinguished Service to Families Award for BC in 1988 after they founded You Are Not Alone.

An important fundraiser for one of the Comox Valley's most beloved charities happens Feb. 24.

It's the annual dinner auction for You Are Not Alone (YANA). The 350 tickets are sold out but you can still help by donating items to the auction or sponsoring a table.

For information please call the office at 250 871-0343.

In 1988 Sandra and Jim Williams (YANA founders) received the Distinguished Service to Families Award for BC

In 1983, Sandra and Jim Williams lived through a parent's worst nightmare. Their four-year-old daughter Roberta was airlifted to BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver.

Sandra spent five months in Vancouver to be with their daughter while she underwent numerous heart surgeries. Jim stayed at home to keep working and take care of their other three children, traveling to Vancouver as often as possible. It was emotionally and financially devastating for the whole family.

After meeting many people in the same position from all over B.C., Sandra and the Williams family decided that something had to be done to alleviate the financial burden for Comox Valley families who were dealing with the out of town medical care of their children. It was crucial that the family be able to remain close to the child who was being treated, to give them every opportunity to be cared for and to recover and heal with their family around them. 
With the assistance of the Red Cross, Sandra Williams and Gail White, both Red Cross volunteers, created a brochure of resources for Comox Valley families who had to travel out of town for medical treatment for their children.

Although that filled a gap, they knew that there was so much more that needed to be done. The YANA Society was created and registered under the Society Act on March 19, 1986 with Sandra Williams and Gail White as the first signing officers.

During those early years YANA was built on the sheer determination and hard work of a small group of volunteers with Sandra at the helm. Sandra spoke at service clubs and to politicians to get the funding started. In the first year, 14 families received assistance of $14,000.

In 1988 Sandra and Jim Williams received the Distinguished Service to Families Award for BC. They were one of two recipients chosen from throughout the province.

Over the years there have been many YANA fundraisers.

Their first major fundraiser was the Celebrity auction in 1987. Volunteers sent out over 1,000 letters and ended up with over 100 autographed celebrity items and photographs. These items were auctioned off by one of the Valley's great YANA supporters, Dave Stevens.

He was assisted by Terry David Mulligan of Much Music fame. The Celebrity Auction continued to be a major annual fundraiser for many years to come.

Also starting in 1987 was the Penny Drive held for a week each May, designated as Parent Week throughout the Valley.

The YANA 24-Hour Relay started in 1992, raising $40,000 in its best year. YANA continued with the 24-hour relay until 2005, changing it to a 12-hour relay in 2006 and 2007.

Weekly drop-in afternoon bingo at the lower Elks Hall raised approximately $1,500 per month for many years. The YANA volunteers also ran the YANA concession trailer and bars at many local events.

Many families will remember collecting their firewood at the YANA Woodlot in exchange for a donation to YANA. The wood came from Field Sawmill and Shields Industrial gave the property to cut the wood.

All of these fundraisers were organized and run by a small core of YANA volunteers. Many times over those years they weren't sure they were going to receive enough funds to meet the need.

They raised the money and they distributed it to families in the Comox Valley. They did it from their homes and from their hearts until they just couldn't do it any more.

In November 2005 it was announced that the existing board would not be able to continue and that they needed new volunteers if YANA was going to continue their good work. By then YANA was a well-loved Comox Valley charity and another set of fresh faces appeared.

For a few years they continued as before but before long realized the need for an office space and a part-time executive director. YANA had outgrown its humble beginnings. Thanks to the 20 years of dedication of the previous boards, YANA had become a household name in the Comox Valley.

Although there were many individuals who volunteered their time with YANA over the years, there are two in particular who spent thousands of hours raising money for YANA. The contribution of Vicki Woods and Bonnie Bragg was acknowledged when they were named joint Citizens of the Year by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2007. 
YANA continues to raise money with a few high-profile events. The biggest fundraiser of the year is the annual dinner auction, which is a sell-out event in February. In the early fall of every year since 2007 YANA and Black's Cycle have organized the YANA ride, where riders can ride any combination of three loops up to 100 miles or families can ride the smaller Comox loop.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without YANA's Christmas crackers made by volunteers every October. There are many other fundraisers held throughout the year with proceeds going to YANA but they are sponsored by local businesses, service clubs, organizations and individuals. One very popular and successful example is the Driftwood Mall's Christmas tree auction for YANA. YANA is also a very popular recipient of unsolicited donations, even from children who donate money from their birthday parties in lieu of presents.

YANA is there the first time that a parent and child are being air lifted from St. Joseph's Hospital to another medical centre. They will be given an envelope of cash to get them through the first day of being away from the Comox Valley. Along with the money is a letter introducing the family to YANA.

If a pregnant mother or a child requires any medical attention outside of the Comox Valley, a phone call or a visit to the YANA office will get the confidential process started where funding, and/or an apartment in Vancouver will be offered to the family.

It's a simple process. No long application forms and no waits for approval. All dealings with YANA are strictly confidential. Names of families helped are not shared with anyone.

Having rented their first Vancouver apartment in May 1992, YANA now rents and maintains four furnished apartments within walking distance of Vancouver Children's hospital. These are often occupied by long-term families and are very seldom empty.

YANA locates and funds other accommodation when required. For other expenses a funding formula is used based on the length of the trip, from a day trip to a month at a time.

Funding continues as long as there's a need. There is no means test, no discussion about income and no expectation of repayment.

YANA is there to keep the family together during a stressful time. YANA helps with the finances so that the family can focus on the healing of the child. YANA exists so that families are not alone when dealing with medical issues for their children.

Staff at Children's Hospital say that to the best of their knowledge, YANA is unique in B.C. and perhaps the rest of Canada, supplying furnished apartments and travelling/living expenses to the families of children requiring medical treatment. These services are provided free of charge.
YANA helps children from birth (sometimes before birth) to age 19 and their families who live in School District 71, believing that when a child is ill the whole family requires looking after.
Residents of the Comox Valley are eternally grateful to Sandra Williams, her family, friends and all of the volunteers over the past 25 years for the hard work, determination and dedication it took to establish and maintain this organization.

Since its inception, YANA has helped over 1,000 families. Comox Valley families will be assisted for years to come because of Sandra's vision and the continued support of the Comox Valley. 
Sadly, Sandra Williams passed away in July of 2009. The City of Courtenay dedicated the new memorial gardens in memory of Sandra in 2010. Sandra was an inspiration to the Comox Valley community and she will always be fondly remembered.
Today, 25 years after YANA was created, the charity must raise or receive $225,000 per year to continue to help local families of children requiring medical attention outside of the Comox Valley.

If you are interested in finding out more about YANA or about volunteering, visit and follow them on Facebook.

Judy Cryer is the president of You Are Not Alone.