Braeden Cox and Lindsay Warnock will emcee the SASSY Awards.

Langley’s first SASSY Awards ceremony is May 6

A new program lauds young achievers while helping youth at risk.

Friday night’s SASSY Awards are about recognizing achievement of Langley’s youth.

But it’s about much more than that for Rod Wainwright and Daniel Bennett, two Langley Rotarians spearheading this year’s new initiative.

The awards event at the Chief Sepass Theatre in Fort Langley on May 6 is also about bringing awareness to – and action for – the youth at risk in this community, the duo insist.

Originally, it was thought the SASSY Awards would honour achievements of local youth, ages 15 to 21, and raise “a bit of money” for youth-at-risk programs or facilities in the community.

But this past year has proven to be a steep learning curve for the two self-proclaimed “grey-haired old men” and their fellow Rotarians (from all four of the Langley Rotary clubs) who have gotten behind SASSY.

They’ve learned the problems of youth-at-risk in Langley is much larger than ever expected, shocked to learn that at least 200 local kids are homeless and hundreds more are on the brink.

“How can we expect a kid who has no where to live, no place to sleep, who is sleeping on a doorstep or wandering the streets all night, who has nothing to eat, has no health care, has no support from home or the community – really, how can expect any of them to aspire to give back to their community in any meaningful way?” Wainwright said.

Part of the learning curve for the Rotarians has been educating themselves to the depth of the problem, and acquainting themselves with the services currently offered in town.

This issue isn’t new, said Wainwright, who was homeless himself at age 16. But that was a very different time, and people had a very different approach to helping “their neighbours.”

Today, youth homelessness and teen struggles are much more prevalent. Sadly, Bennett interjected, society tends to paint all youth with a similar brush, suggesting if they’re at risk or homeless that they must be “bad kids” better cared for in jail.

Most of these are not bad kids, said Bennett, asking people stop the labelling. Instead, he suggests people take a little time to learn about a youth and their journey.

“They are not all bums or bad kids,” he said, noting most have simply been thrown into a bad situation due to circumstances at home, mental health issues, or self-medication.

They’re not looking for a hand-out, as much as a hand up, Wainwright added.

Most of the kids just want and need a little help to get on the right path, before it’s too late, Bennett said.

That’s become the mission of those involved with SASSY.

Putting the politics of the issues aside, they hope the local Rotary Clubs and SASSY program can be a catalyst to bring the issue to the forefront for discussion and resolution.

“I feel we can be the force that brings the groups together and makes a difference,” Wainwright said.

As for the Friday’s awards night, Bennett said he’s “thrilled with the number and quality of entries. There were 42 nominations in six categories (community service, international service, youth leadership, overcoming adversity, arts and culture, and sportsmanship), and each youth nominated will be recognized Friday with a 60-second video.

“We knew there was a bunch of good kids out in the community making a positive contribution,” Bennett said. But they’ve both been surprised by calibre of the individuals and are convinced the recognition program will grow.

Doors open for Friday’s celebration at 7 p.m. at the theatre attached to Langley Fine Arts School. The show starts at 8 p.m., and includes a Juno-style awards ceremony emceed by Langley Fine Arts grads Lindsay Warnock and Braedon Cox. The evening will feature video presentations from the Back Street Studios at Brookswood Secondary, performances by Her Brothers and a few other acts, with Wainwright promising to have everyone back home by 9:30 p.m.

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