It was early 2011 and something awful was happening to Nanaimo teenager Kennedy Baker.
“I was crying all the time, but I didn’t necessarily know why,” Baker said. “I would come home from school and I would cry.”
By February of 2011, Baker, who was attending Dover Bay Secondary School, weighed 90 pounds and was admitted to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and an anxiety disorder. The chain of events that would trigger Baker’s stress and anxiety began in 2010 when her mother was sexually assaulted. Shortly after the incident, doctors discovered two lumps in both of Baker’s breasts and underwent surgery to remove them – thankfully, the lumps were not cancerous. In the weeks following the surgery, Baker was out for a routine jog near her home in Nanaimo when a man wearing a Halloween mask drove by and shot her, nicking her foot. It wasn’t long after her near-death experience when Baker learned that her estranged father had died after a battle with alcoholism.
But Baker rose above the adversity. She got involved in various clubs and councils in school, such as the Me to We club, where she helped raise $11,000 for the construction of a new school in India.
“You get to make yourself be who you want to be,” she said. “You don’t have to let other people make you be anything you don’t want to.”
In 2012, Baker began volunteering at the Nanaimo 7-10 Club Society. It was during her time with the club that she yearned to do more for the community.
“I was working in a soup kitchen and I noticed a lot of people going through the kitchen were having a lot of similar problems that I was dealing with, but I had a really supportive family and I was able to get the help, whereas they just weren’t able to get the help they needed,” Baker said.
She formed her own organization called, STAND (Strength, Togetherness, Action, Non-Judgemental and Determination), which strives to eliminate poverty and promote mental health awareness.
“Hopefully by sharing my story I’ll help people and get more people to share their story and in turn help even more people,” she said.
Baker’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year she received the Young Women in Public Affairs Award from the Zonta Club of Nanaimo and was awarded the Costal Community Scholarship, worth $2,000.
“I am always shocked when I get them,” Baker said about receiving the awards. “I don’t see them coming. I think there are a lot of people out there who are just as or more deserving.”
In June, Baker took home the Me to We Award, which landed her a full-length feature in Canadian Living Magazine and provided her with a $5,000 donation toward any charity of her choice – she chose the 7-10 Club.
“By winning a lot of these awards and scholarships I’ve ultimately been able to spread my message,” she said. “It means more than just a scholarship or an award; it’s always been about being able to reach out to more people.”
Baker, now 18, has come a long way since her admission to hospital in 2011. She recalled what doctors told her when she suggested leaving the hospital on her own terms.
“They told me I would be back and that I wouldn’t make it but I have yet to go back,” she said.
Baker now attends Vancouver Island University and still suffers from the occasional bout of anxiety, but has simply learned to cope with it.
“You have to stand up and rise up above it,” she said.