The legacy of Saulteau First Nations member Lee-Anne Howes continues through an annual bike giveaway in her name and her family's effort to spread mental health awareness after her death from suicide in 2012.
For those familiar with the community of Saulteau First Nations, Howes was known as a warm, loving person.
Her daughter, Desiree Napolean, recounts growing up in a house full of kids' laughter as Howes' home was the place to be.
Howes would make each youngster stand up against a board, measure their height, and mark their name and date, said Napolean. The board became a blur of names, so the board expanded to a wall, which still proudly bears those names and dates.
Howes' passing in 2012 after battles with her mental health sent shockwaves of devastation across the community.
Shortly after, her husband, Wayne, saw the need to make something good from this tragedy as he saw how horribly the family was affected.
Napolean says Wayne did not want Howes' legacy to be overshadowed by her struggle with depression, so he decided to purchase five bikes to give away in her name at Pemmican Days in 2013.
The amazed look on the kids' faces when they wheeled off in their new bikes was all the confirmation he needed that her memory would live on, according to Napolean.
Fast forward to 2022, where last weekend, the Annual Lee-Anne Howes Bike Giveaway raffled off a whopping 59 bikes to the thrill and delight of all the kids in attendance at Pemmican Days.
To date, the annual giveaway has given 216 young people the gift of feeling the wind through their hair as they cruise down the open road.
"The joy on kids' faces is amazing and something our family looks forward to. Kids get to go home with a brand new bike. It's a continuous celebration of my mom's life by helping out other families," said Napolean.
Each year the event has grown in size and anticipation as the family remains committed to bringing joy and excitement to the kids.
However, it hasn't always been easy.
During the pandemic, the Howes family moved the giveaway to Chetwynd and had a timed giveaway to abide by social distancing and gathering regulations. The family was determined to continue the giveaway, believing kids needed some positivity during a time of isolation and fear.
It was then that her family decided to include suicide prevention and mental health awareness into the scope of the giveaway.
"We want kids who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression to know that they are not alone and there are people out there that care and want to help. Please call the Suicide Hotline 833-456-4566 and talk to someone," said Napolean.
The family's commitment to the giveaway should not go unmentioned.
Sponsorships for the giveaway have only been accepted for the past two years. Before getting sponsors, Wayne and Shannon Howes and NapHow Contracting funded all the bikes.
One year, Napolean says, she spent several hours on the phone with bicycle dealers in the area trying to find enough stock to giveaway at Pemmican Days.
This year's sponsors included Canuma Resources, Alteck, West Fraser, Canadian Tire, F&M Installations, Myron Snyder, Gary Meagher and Surerus Murphey.
Two bikes were even allotted for an Elders draw.
Napolean says sponsorship is welcome as it means more bikes for more kids.
Kirsta Lindstrom, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Energeticcity.ca