Maya Harpool and her mom Zoe Ahlstrom recently experienced a full-circle moment of giving.
They were named winners of the TELUS #FriendlyFutureDays contest, which donated more than $100,000 to charitable causes across Canada. Because of Harpool and Ahlstrom’s win, Richmond Family Place—which offers resource programs for kids and families—was the recipient of $10,000.
“We were so excited, I don’t even know how to put it into words,” says Harpool. “It’s an organization that we used when I was a lot younger, and my mom was a new mom.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Harpool and Ahlstrom have been helping out by doing the laundry for Family Place.
“I was looking to see if there were any volunteer opportunities in Richmond,” Harpool explains. “I found this one at Family Place, and I thought it would be a really great fit for my mom and I given our circumstances previously.”
The shared feeling of uncertainty during the pandemic motivated Harpool to give back, and she was glad to be able to help out an organization that had provided for her and her mom when she was younger. Once a week, Ahlstrom picks up the laundry and brings it home, where Harpool—who recently moved to Vancouver—comes to stay with her mom and help with the washing.
“It’s usually Thursdays that we’ll wash it and fold it together, then the next day she’ll drop it off and pick up the next load,” says Harpool.
While she was too young at the time to remember specifics of Family Place programs, Harpool does remember visiting its thrift store with her mom. Going to thrift stores together is one of their favourite things to do together to this day.
Harpool, 24, was born and raised in Richmond, and has “a very strong connection to the community and the city.” An alumna of Garden City elementary and Palmer secondary, she says the city was very different when her parents first moved here a quarter-century ago.
“When (my mom) moved to Richmond it was mostly farmland, it was a much smaller community back then,” says Harpool. “She and my dad decided to settle there—it was a good community to raise a family.”
Among her favourite memories growing up are birthday parties at the Steveston waterpark, going to the playground, and spending time with other kids her age. Now she works as a psychological assistant and office manager, which also allows her to give back.
“Working as a psychologist’s assistant is a very rewarding job in that sense, because it is very hands on, and I do work directly with a lot of clients to help them in their journey towards living a more mentally healthy life,” says Harpool. “We’ve seen a very big influx of people who’ve been seeking psychological services, definitely a spike during COVID.”
During a tumultuous time in the world, many people are eager to give back. Harpool says having more time to volunteer opened her eyes.
“There’s people that felt COVID a lot more than others, just because of their socio-economic status,” she says. “I think that was a lot more prominent in a pandemic—that we’re not all really feeling the repercussions of COVID the same (way), it disproportionately affects a lot of us.”
Harpool praises Family Place for its accessibility and ability to provide equal opportunity to all children and families. She encourages other people to consider volunteering and giving back as well, even if they initially think their contribution is a small one.
“I thought, ‘oh, we’re just doing their laundry, it’s not really anything too crazy,’ but it clearly made a very big impact on them not just as an organization but as people as well,” she says. “It was nice to reconnect with them, I think, (and) it really helps give you a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging in your community.
“Being that I feel such a strong tie to Richmond, it’s a very important thing to me. I think for a community to function properly, everyone has to feel a sense of belonging in it, and Richmond Family Place does a great job of that.”
Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel