Community Papers

OUR COMMUNITY: Alexis Grace – Feed The Need

Alexis Grace revamped the Seabird Island food bank. She got rid of
Alexis Grace revamped the Seabird Island food bank. She got rid of 'belly fillers' like Kraft Dinner and canned pork and beans, and replaced them with traditional foods – canned fruits and vegetables, fish caught locally, and wild game hunted by members.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Alexis Grace wanted to be an actress.

She wanted to sing and dance on Broadway and star in the movies.

Instead, she became a cheerleader, champion, and advocate for Seabird Island.

It's a role she wouldn't trade for anything.

Grace is the manager of Employment, Training and Social Development at Seabird Island. For four years, she's been connecting at-risk youth and adults with employment and supports.

She refuses to use cookie-cutter solutions.

If her clients need a haircut, styling products, or new clothes, she gets them. If they need a ride, she drives. And if they go AWOL, she tracks them down.

"It's about providing them what they need from start to finish," she says.

"The youth know if they don't show up for work, or if there's something going on and I haven't heard from them, I will be at their door.

"I genuinely care about my clients. It's more than clients, it's more than community, they're family."

Interestingly, Grace didn't grow up on the reserve. Her grandparents moved away in the 1960s. But when her mother, Karen Bobb-Reid, who had recently returned to Seabird, died of a brain aneurysm 11 years ago, a sudden passion for her community and her people was sparked.

Grace, who was 19 years old, had never before seen a funeral so large and impressive as her mother's.

Bobb-Reid had been a prominent figure in criminal justice, working at Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village, a minimum-security institution just outside of Chehalis.

The Seabird Island gymnasium was packed, and overflow had spread outside. It was a mix of family, band members and tough, hardened inmates "drumming and singing songs and crying inconsolably."

"Just seeing what she was able to do in the community, and the community she worked in, I think, without even knowing it, inspired me," Grace says.

"I now look at everything I do to honour my mother."

Grace was hired at Seabird Island six years ago for a low-paying, clerical position, a job the band was hesitant giving her because she was over-qualified.

Grace has a bachelor of fine arts and a masters of education.

"I wanted to continue the work that maybe my mother didn't finish," she says. "I wanted to connect with people, be involved in their lives, hear their stories.

"I was confident it would lead to something more."

When Grace took over employment, training and social development, she instantly put her stamp on it.

She didn't want it to be a place people were ashamed to go, but rather warm and welcoming. She rearranged the office, making it more inviting for people to relax and socialize. Every morning a plate of snacks and coffee is put out, and a nutritious lunch is served on the day social assistance is distributed.

Grace also revamped the food bank. She got rid of "belly fillers" like Kraft Dinner and canned pork and beans, and replaced them with traditional foods – canned fruits and vegetables, fish caught locally, and wild game hunted by members.

It's all about hunting, gathering and preserving their own, local foods.

"It's about reducing poverty," she says.

"Hunger is a fundamental issue in First Nations communities. In trying to reduce the cycle of dependency and poverty, I think food is probably a really good place to start."

Next year, Grace will be adding a community garden to the program.

The 31-year-old, now pregnant with her second child, and working through her second term on council, has lofty goals for Seabird Island, but goals she is sure can be achieved.

"I want to see Seabird more independent," she says. "And I want to see everyone, regardless of last name, social standing, number of children, wherever they may be in their lives, feel how they deserve to feel in the community."

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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