John Howard, the son of a wealthy British upholsterer, was captured by French privateers while traveling on a ship called the Hanover way back in the 1700s. He was transferred around to a few prisons before being released and returned to his home country in exchange for a French officer held by his own government at the time.
The treatment he received at the hands of the French is widely believed to be the impetus for his life of advocacy. With no true vocation of his own, upon his return to Britain he launched into a life as an advocate for prisoners, became high-sherif of Bedfordshire and eventually published a humanitarian treatise called The State of Prisons after visiting hundreds of the facilities across Europe, spurring the modern English-speaking prison reform movement. His work fighting for prisoner’s rights is credited with establishing the practice of single-ceiling (one prisoner per cell), for example.
And his advocacy work is what triggered a man named Reverend J. Dinnage Hobden to name his organization the John Howard Society in 1931, right here in B.C. The society was modelled after a Toronto organization called the Citizens Service Association, which helped reintegrate men into society after being released from prison. In fact, the Citizens Service Association would later become the John Howard Society of Ontario.
While the original intent of the John Howard Society – which soon saw chapters formed all across the country – was to help provide services and rehabilitate men being released from prison, it has become much more than that over time.
Lori McKeown, program manager for John Howard Society of North Island (JHSNI), says over the years each chapter of the organization has adapted to the needs of the community it serves, and the North Island chapter now provides more youth services than anything else.
“Here on the North Island, we started by offering services for people out on parole,” McKeown says. “There were maybe two people working here when we started, but it’s slowly expanded and now most of our services are for youth.”
Those services include programs supporting independent living, youth housing, youth/parent mediation services, caregiver support, the KidStart mentoring program, youth and family substance use counselling, detox support, youth justice and forensic services and psychiatric services.
Late in 2015, a call went out from the BC Integrated Youth Services Initiative (BC-IYSI) for community applications. The BC-IYSI wanted to find communities that could be home to new “integrated youth health and social services centres.”
Of the 25 communities across B.C. which submitted applications, five were selected, one of which was Campbell River, thanks to various community partners, including JHSNI, coming together to benefit our youth.
The Foundry, as the Campbell River centre will be known, will be located in the current JHSNI building on 10th Avenue downtown, and will both expand and centralize various community youth services.
McKeown says The Foundry will not only add to the services the JHSNI already provide by incorporating some aspects of primary care – such as doctors, nurses and other one-to-one services like substance use counselling – but will also, hopefully, remove some of the current barriers encountered by people who could make use of the services.
“It’s going to be sort of a one-stop-shop, in collaboration with our partners, but it’s mainly about trying to make these services more accessible,” McKeown says. “ A lot of times youth are struggling and don’t access the support services they need, and then those problems just get bigger and bigger and become more problematic and require a greater intensity of service down the road. So the hope is that we are going to reduce stigma, make it more user friendly and make it so that people know that if they come to The Foundry, youth and young adults can get the services they need here, whatever those needs are.”
McKeown says The Foundry will also allow the organization to expand their programming to offer courses like informal cooking classes and actual certifications like FoodSafe.
She says those sorts of offerings will hopefully also go a long way to removing the barrier of stigma, as well, because, “people won’t know why you’re walking through the door, because there are so many reasons you could be coming here.”
What she’s most thrilled about, however, is the “how” of the project’s development.
“I think the biggest thing with this that is different is that parents and youth have been involved since the beginning,” she says. The integration of both a parent council and youth council coordinating and consulting on the project, McKeown says, “will be very, very important in making a difference. We’re very fortunate to have such committed youth and parents involved in the planning of it.”
Barb Kozeletski is a member of the leadership team working on the development of The Foundry, and says her journey would have been much easier if a facility like this existed when she needed it.
“When I accessed the current services there was nothing cohesive about the journey,” she says. “It was confusing and fragmented. It has been exciting to be involved in part of the solution to making access to the services more streamlined and with an emphasis on sensitivity in regards to stigma. It’s an opportunity to be on the ground floor of something that gives hope and compassion to our youth.”
McKeown says they are “hopeful” that the renovations on the building will be completed by February, “and we’re hoping to be opening sometime in March, so we’re really not that far off.”
And so the legacy of John Howard, British prisoner of the French 300 or so years ago, will continue to live on right here in downtown Campbell River, as the JHSNI helps fight for the youth of our region.