VIU Anthropology Class Ignites Family's Passion to Support the Homeless

Left to right: The daughter, mother and son team of Sharae Antley, Alana Bourque and Jaden Bourque study together at VIU.

March 5, 2015 - 1:00pm

Resilience and determination.

These are two key characteristics of a mother, daughter and son team from Ladysmith studying together at Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo.

Siblings Jaden Bourque and Sharae Antley are Anthropology majors at VIU and their mother Alana Bourque, in remission from a serious illness, has audited classes  with them for two years.

Recently, the mother, son and daughter team completed an Anthropology of Homelessness class at VIU’s Cowichan campus taught by instructor Helene Demers. For a class assignment, they organized a ‘community action project’ - donation drive to collect non-perishable food and other items for the Ladysmith Soup Kitchen.

Targeting about 200 homes in Ladysmith, they collected hundreds of bags of food items and $400 in cheques for the Ladysmith Community Resources Centre.

“The response from the community was overwhelming and the project had a profound effect on all of us,” says Jaden. “Helene’s class really opened our eyes.

“We’ve lived in Ladysmith for 10 years and had no idea the soup kitchen feeds 60-plus people per week in the basement of the Eagles Hall. Helene’s class was the first opportunity we had to get out into the community and do something positive. All three of us realized that we should volunteer more in our own community.”

Demers aims to incorporate community action and/or social justice assignments in all her classes and encourages students to conduct applied research that promotes safe, healthy and inclusive communities.

“It’s wonderful to see students making a difference in their communities, especially when that volunteerism carries on after the class ends,” says Demers.

The family plans to organize a second donation drive later this spring after their classes end this semester.

Sharae and Jaden are currently enrolled in five classes together, while mom Alana is auditing one class with them – the Anthropology of Peace Education taught again by Demers. “We find an instructor we like and take all their classes,” says Jaden.

Sharae points out that the chance to take classes with her brother and mother and work on projects like the donation drive has special significance because of unforeseen life circumstances the family has faced together.

“I’m a thyroid cancer survivor and mom is in remission from a serious blood disease called Amyloidosis,” she explains, “so we really appreciate every minute we get to spend together.”

Jaden was the first in the family to start taking classes at VIU three years ago, after working in the construction industry for nearly a decade and briefly at a restaurant in Ladysmith.

Sharae joined him the following semester when her youngest child was in Kindergarten, and they’ve been taking classes together ever since. Both of Metis heritage, they’ve decided to pursue Aboriginal law together after graduation, Jaden next winter and Sharae in 2016.

Their mom Alana, a life-long learner herself, is delighted to be back in school with two of her four children.

She obtained her own Bachelor of Arts degree (major in History) as a mature student many years ago when her children were young, and she enrolled in VIU’s post-baccalaurate Bachelor of Education program in 2013. “Unfortunately, I had to withdraw when I was diagnosed with my illness,” she says.

Alana required 11 months of chemotherapy and Jaden was one of her main caregivers. “It was a difficult time,” he says. “I remember one night helping mom when mom was violently ill. The next day, I had to write two finals. I don’t know how, but we got through it.”

In coming months, Alana will require a kidney transplant and Sharae has been identified as a potential donor.

“I’m proud of how my kids have handled the past few years,” says Alana. “They both have young families, are full-time students keeping up excellent grades, and have helped me as caregivers. On top of all that, they stay positive, volunteer and make a difference in their community.

“Our experiences have helped us put things in perspective and have brought us closer together,” adds Alana. “We’ve learned that every moment counts.”



Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University 

P: 250.740.6288 E: Twitter: @VIUNews

Tags: Student Success

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