Lyla Hunter–finding a voice.

Take yourself back 21 years to a small mining town in Bulkley Valley, in northern BC. A paradise for fishing, hunting and hiking and spectacular terrain. The picture is idyllic, but the reality was different. Lyla was a typically awkward teenager on the verge of adulthood when her life was impacted by things she later realized were forms of violence.

When Lyla spoke up about her experiences, they were brushed aside by some of the adults in her life, and she felt voiceless. Increasingly alone and anxious, she sunk into a depression.

Soon after, Lyla and her mother and sister moved to Vancouver. She was troubled and anxious at school. “It was a hard move. I didn’t feel like I fit in. My new classmates listened to different music and used different slang words. I was a small-town girl in a big city.”.

Seeking connection and friendship, she attended a Love BC presentation at her East Vancouver school. “I was looking for something and the presentation–Leave Out Violence– resonated with me”, she says. “Love BC offered a photography course and supplied the camera, film and black and white lab facilities for free. I had never had an opportunity like this before. I was intrigued and joined the 13-week writing and photography course.”

Joining the course was life-altering for Lyla. She surprised herself by discovering that it was the writing course that she leaned towards, not photography. For the first time, she had a voice, a platform to express her emotions. “I had never picked up a pen before to express myself. It was a new experience.”

Click here to watch Lyla speak in her video.

Love BC offered Lyla more than the writing and photography course. It provided her a time of healing and gave her a voice. She joined the Leadership Program and grew from a shy teenager into a young woman who could stand in front of an audience of 200 people and share her story.

For the first time in her life, Lyla felt she had something to offer. “I became more involved in the organisation’s activities and joined the board as a youth member, where I gained self-confidence and self-worth. I had never felt respected by adults before; I had always felt like a second class citizen. However, at Love BC, we were encouraged to speak up and out. To be an active part of the decision making of the organisation.”

And so it is that 20 years later, Lyla is an adult member of the Board, still speaking out and speaking up for the diversity of teenagers that come to Love BC in crisis. “Love is a family. There is always a snack or a meal when you walk through the doors. Food is a universal language,” she laughs, “ and very important to teenagers. It brings them to Love–but what keeps them there is the feeling of family.”

Talking to Lyla, it feels like this is a young woman who has climbed a mountain to free herself from shame, depression and anxiety. And, the view from that mountain is breath-taking. “As a teenager, I didn’t dare imagine my future. I didn’t anticipate or hope for the things I have now. Married, the mother of two beautiful children, and a working woman,” she smiles.

Written by Julie Coghlan-Smith, March 2021