The Lower Mainland Purpose Society for Youth and Families was originally incorporated as the Burnaby Purpose Society in 1983. The Society’s name was changed in the late 1980’s to reflect the new geographical and programming mandate.
The Society was founded by two social workers and two teachers (and their supporters) who, at the time, were working on a day attendance program for adolescents in Burnaby. The program was known as “Purpose”, a name that referred to its general working principles.
The founding staff members, Lynda Fletcher-Gordon, Phill Esau, Steve Mason and Jon Manlove wanted to establish a new Society that would offer innovative educational and life-skills programs to youth. They were convinced that they could offer programming that was effective in helping young people make more positive decisions for themselves, and that could equip them to either return to school or obtain rewarding employment. They were not sure how things would unfold but they made the commitment to work together for one year. During this time they would determine whether they could make the programs they envisioned a permanent reality.
The new Society needed financial support for its programs but nothing was available from the government, the usual source for funding for non-profit organizations in the social service sector. The creation of the Society had unfortunately coincided with the introduction of a government austerity program that was decimating the Province’s social services system. The austerity program eventually spawned the “Solidarity” movement and led to the massive labour unrest of the mid 1980’s.
The foster father of two boys who were attending the Purpose program suggested that bingo was one way to raise money. He ran bingo games for a non-profit group and arranged for the Purpose group to hold number of bingos over the summer of 1983. Enough money was raised to continue modest programming and to provide the capital necessary to start a fundraising bingo hall. These dual, and at times competing activities – programming for youth and independent fundraising to support the programming – would prove to be the focus of the Society for the rest of the decade. The fundraising bingos were immensely successful and other non-profit groups became interested in renting the Society’s bingo hall to hold their own bingos. Before long the hall was rented every evening of the week and the Army Navy Bingo Hall, as it became known, was the place to be if you were a bingo fan.
Success in fundraising was translated directly into the development of effective programming, at first for youth and then for their families. A part of the building leased by the Society was converted into the Purpose Learning Centre, with classrooms and a recreation area for the youth. A street-worker program was started, using the Society’s drop-in centre on Columbia Street in New Westminster. Several work experience and vocational training programs were also initiated in an attempt to address the serious problem of youth unemployment.
By the early 1990s the Society was receiving full government funding for its programs and was entering into new programming areas. It had also acquired its own building on Begbie Street, New Westminster, in which to house its programs and offices. The Society withdrew from participating in gaming activities and turned its entire energy and focus to delivering social, health and educational services. Although “bingo days,” as they were fondly known, were arduous and at times immensely painful, they were important in shaping and strengthening the Society.
The Society Today
Today the Society has over 180 employees who provide a variety of services to youth and families throughout the Lower Mainland, but particularly in Burnaby, New Westminster, and the Tri-Cities.
The vision, optimism and caring of the original “gang of four” have sustained the Society over the past 30 years. The Society and its programs would not exist were it not for their initial and continuing courage in the face of tremendous adversity and strenuous opposition, and their unwavering dedication and commitment to social activism.