Nanaimo student focused on helping others

NANAIMO - Kennedy Baker overcomes past trauma to organize food drives, benefit concerts for charity

This year, 17-year-old Kennedy Baker will spend International Women’s Day being honoured not only for the women she strives to help, but for the woman she has become.

While many teenage girls spend their time concerned with boys, clothes or what lipstick to wear to class, Baker’s world was consumed by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At age 15, after hearing the news her mother had been sexually assaulted, Baker was diagnosed with lumps in both breasts and underwent surgery to remove them – after three months of agonizing waiting, they learned the pathology was benign. Shortly after recovering from surgery, Baker was approached by a male in a van while she was out for an evening run. He proceeded to roll down his window and shoot a gun at her.

The final straw was a few weeks later, when Baker learned her estranged father had passed away from alcohol addiction. From there, Baker’s health began to decline, both physically and emotionally.

“I felt completely out of control. Suddenly, the world had become a very scary place,” she wrote of the experience. “My mom wasn’t safe, I could get sick and people could die. For some reason, I felt responsible, like I had brought this on myself.”

When she was admitted to B.C. Children’s Hospital in February 2011, Baker, at 5’8”, weighed just over 90 pounds and was diagnosed with PTSD and general anxiety disorder.

“I ended up having to stay in the hospital for three months and when I came back to school, I had no friends,” said the Dover Bay Secondary School senior. “All of them decided I was crazy and moved on, so I decided to put my energy into giving back to the community instead.”

It started with school clubs like Me to We and councils but has blossomed into so much more. In addition to volunteering with the 7-10 Club, Baker started her own non-profit organization, STAND (Strength, Togetherness, Action, Non-Judgemental and Determination). It is made up of a half dozen core members, with others who help volunteer on a need-basis. In October, STAND held a food drive which provided 60 families with bags of non-perishable goods. In February, the group hosted a benefit concert which raised $1,600. That money will be used toward renting the gazebo at Maffeo Sutton Park to hand out baked potatoes and hot chocolate to the homeless and less fortunate in early April.

“STAND is driven by people my own age and our motto is, if we stand up, stand together and stand strong, we can make a difference,” Baker said.

This Friday, during its International Women’s Day event, the Zonta Club of Nanaimo will honour Baker with the annual Young Woman in Public Affairs award. In addition to the presentation, there will also be guest speakers Roseleen Batalia, sister of Maple Batalia, who was gunned down by her ex-boyfriend in September 2011, and Nanaimo RCMP Cst. Jeanne Vestergaard, domestic violence investigator.

“The event is No. 1, to celebrate what women are doing for each other, but also to bring to light the issue of violence against women and girls,” said Corinne Stewart, Zonta Nanaimo treasurer. “Roseleen is going to speak from the heart about the impact it’s had on her whole family, and losing someone so young by violence.”

Zonta was founded internationally in 1919 but has existed in Nanaimo since 1993. Its purpose is to educate and empower women and girls to help them become independent, self-sufficient and less vulnerable to abuse.

In addition to fundraising for organizations such as Haven House, Kids Help Phone and Kids for Kids, the Nanaimo Club also hosts the Zonta Red Gala every February.

The Young Woman in Public Affairs awards program recognizes young women who demonstrate a commitment to public service and civic causes, among other qualities. Those who are accepted into the program at the club level are eligible for a regional award worth $1,000, and an international award of $4,000.

When it comes to women’s issues, Baker said education is key, because it gives people the self-confidence to succeed in life. She’d like to see issues like domestic violence discussed in more depth in schools.

“It’s not something that all teachers are comfortable with students talking about or making points about, but I think being allowed to talk more openly about that stuff in school would be really helpful,” she said.

Baker, a straight-A student, will be attending the University of Victoria this fall and wants to pursue a degree in psychology.

STAND will be hosting another benefit concert in late June to raise money for meals for the homeless.

To follow STAND, please visit http://kennedycbaker.wordpress.com.

The Zonta Nanaimo Women’s Day event takes place at noon on Friday (March 8) at the Coast Bastion Inn. Tickets are $30 and available by calling 250-758-7632 or e-mailing info@nanaimo-zonta.org.