“We don’t have an opioid crisis, we have a trauma crisis,” Program Director says.
There aren’t many people who understand the need for trauma-based therapy more than Dan’s Legacy Program Director Tom Littlewood.
During a time before social services were prevalent, a younger Littlewood used drugs to self-medicate while living in a house with 17 other people as a teenager.
“I was a residential school survivor and you know, trauma attracts trauma,” Littlewood said. “I went to jail at 16 and when I got out, I was the only one of my friends still alive. I realized at that point I was going to kill someone or myself.”
Littlewood then made the choice to live in a cabin in the woods for the next three years to help kickstart his healing. Although he almost starved a couple of times, he came out of the experience and started his career of giving back….by going back to school.
“I was 23 and had grade eight education,” Littlewood said. “All the students around me were 18 and 19 and smarter than wits. My education was doing heroin and psychedelics for nine years. It was really hard to focus on anything.”
“It was hard and I almost gave up, but a couple of professors took me under their wing and told me not to give up. Things got better and by the time I finished that I was working full-time as a police counsellor.”
The need to “just give these kids a chance”
It wasn’t long after completing his education that Littlewood ended up in Prince George. He spent four and a half years up there after developing one of the province’s first diversion programs for at-risk youth.
“We did a program where kids cleaned up garbage,” he said. “We had scales and it was interesting to see how they worked. We picked up garbage bigger than the church parking lot, so we basically saw the power of youth and the last year I was there, we built parks for schools.”
After spending time helping youth realize their potential up in Prince George, Littlewood moved to Surrey to continue along the same line of work.
“We continued to build these parks and when I moved to Surrey, we did it big time. Poplar Park, that was all built by youth who were in the program. They would do three weeks in the park working along with a 10-day hike experience.”
“They would do that for six to 12 months. Some found it was better to do time compared to the work I made them do. If you just give these kids a chance though, you’ll find that they can surprise you.”
The significance of trauma-based care at Dan’s Legacy
Littlewood ended up getting involved with Dan’s Legacy after meeting the family following Dan’s passing. The momentum of Dan’s Legacy was fading in the years after his death in 2006, but Littlewood worked with the family to help spearhead the resurgence.
“What cost Dan his life was a lack of age-appropriate therapy,” Littlewood said. “Many people don’t realize that we don’t have an opioid crisis, we have a trauma crisis. These kids turn to drugs as an outlet after they experience trauma, and there aren’t enough services out there to help alleviate that trauma.”
Littlewood and Dan’s Legacy began offering counselling services in the early years, and the improved results of the trauma-based care were evident.
“We saw in the first two years about a 100% increase in grads who completed school, and the kids often had better success in recovery. Many of these kids were going through landlords like no tomorrow, and all of the sudden these kids were now successful in these housing situations.”
Since then, Dan’s Legacy has continued to flourish year after year. They’ve added a number of programs that focus on life skills, exercise, culinary arts and more.
Littlewood knows that the style of rehabilitation at Dan’s Legacy is much more effective than the traditional way of dealing with kids who have experienced trauma.
A lot of kids we see have just had an overdose,” he said. “These kids can’t wait, but in traditional care situations they make an appointment, get to the place by bus if they have bus fare, get to the building, behave, read National Geographic and talk to therapist in a suit.”
“This just triggers these kids. A lot of them don’t have phones, bus fare, don’t know what day it is. Proper care just isn’t happening.”
Dan’s Legacy does things different by visiting the kids, whether they’re on the street or in a home. There’s also no cost involved. That, along with the style of care is why Littlewood can be proud of the environment that’s been created at Dan’s Legacy.
“I really like the freedom,” he said. “There are too many restrictions working for the Ministry [of B.C.] where you couldn’t do your job. With Dan’s Legacy, if we’re doing a camp, we say let’s do it. There’s the freedom to be therapists here and that flexibility makes a difference.”
Dan’s Legacy recently received a grant from SurreyCares that will go towards their “Mindfulness through Photography” workshops. They’re also hosting their 6th annual Chefs’ Charity Dinner in Surrey on Saturday, November 2nd.
If you want to support Dan’s Legacy or learn more, visit their website.