Nanaimo student a finalist for national award

NANAIMO – At age 17, Kennedy Baker has already overcome some life-altering challenges – and moved on to support others.

At age 17, Kennedy Baker has already overcome some life-altering challenges – and moved on to support others.

Two years ago, the Dover Bay Secondary School senior’s life as she knew it fell apart.

Shortly after hearing that her mother had been sexually assaulted, Baker was diagnosed at 15 with lumps in both breasts and underwent surgery to remove them – she later learned the lumps were not cancerous.

A week or two after her surgery, Baker was out for a run near her home in the north end of town when a man driving by wearing a Halloween mask shot at her.

Then she learned that her estranged father had passed away from alcohol addiction.

At first, she thought she was fine, but as the weeks went by, she started to fear things.

Upset about her father’s death, a man she didn’t know, Baker began to worry about losing her mother and grandparents, people she cared deeply about. Life had suddenly become very fragile.

“I started to withdraw, I started to stay home more,” said Baker. “I started to lose a lot of weight. Things like writing a test became a really big deal.”

In February 2011, she was admitted to B.C. Children’s Hospital, weighing about 90 pounds on her 5’8″ frame, and during her 12-week stay, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and general anxiety disorder.

“I was seeing psychiatrists, psychologists, all sorts of doctors,” said Baker.

But when she returned home, her troubles weren’t over.

Before her hospital stay, Baker was well-liked and popular at school, but after, she found herself friendless and the target of bullies.

“When I came back, all my friends had moved on and I was crazy, mental girl,” she said. “I ended up eating lunch alone. It was definitely not easy for other people to understand. I don’t know if I really expect people to understand.”

To deal, she kept herself busy, joining student council and becoming co-president of her school’s Me to We club, through which she helped raise $11,000 to build a school in India.

In the summer of 2012, she started volunteering at the Nanaimo 7-10 Club Society, where she realized how judged and misunderstood the people served by the society are and felt a connection to them based on her own experiences.

Last September, she started her own non-profit organization, STAND (Strength, Togetherness, Action, Non-Judgmental, and Determination).

STAND held a food drive in October that provided 60 families with bags of non-perishable goods, hosted a benefit concert in February that raised $1,600, and handed out food and hot beverages to the homeless and less fortunate in Maffeo Sutton Park in April, feeding more than 150 people.

Next up is a benefit concert tomorrow (May 31) from 5-9 p.m. at Fibber Magees, proceeds of which will go to a summer picnic. For more information, please go to http://kennedycbaker.wordpress.com.

Baker’s latest accomplishment is being selected as one of three finalists for a national Me to We award in the community category. The Me to We Awards, sponsored by Canadian Living and AOL/Huffington Post Impact Canada, shine the spotlight on Canadians making a difference in communities and abroad.

If Baker wins, she receives $5,000 to donate to the charity of her choice – the 7-10 Club, where she continues to volunteer two or three times a week.

But to win, she needs community support, as the winner is determined through online votes at www.huffingtonpost.ca/p/metowe.html. Voting ends Saturday (June 1).

Baker said the money would go a long way towards helping to feed people who use the club’s services.