Seamus turned 16 on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. He earned his driver’s license two days later, on a Friday.
That Sunday, his father Mike Gee returned from a morning walk to find Seamus unresponsive on the floor of his Langley home. He never regained consciousness.
A life of promise was extinguished in an impulsive moment of self-harm by asphyxiation. The cause of death was ruled as ‘inconclusive’ in a coroner’s report, Mike says.
If Seamus had been depressed, it hadn’t been obvious or clear. Encouraged by his new driving skills, his birthday celebrations and plans to apply for a part-time job, he had much to look forward to.
Though the isolation of pandemic restrictions hasn’t helped, Mike Gee is slowly carving his way out of his trauma by embracing his role on the Family Advisory Committee for the new Foundry Langley.
Foundry Langley has been designed as a safe space where young people can find coordinated, confidential youth mental and physical wellness services from professionals equipped to guide them with medical and mental health wellness and counselling.
It’s a community-wide effort.
The Foundry Langley model of a “one-stop” navigation hub for all physical and mental health services is an appealing one for young people who may not have the resources to wade through the bureaucracy on the way to counselling or medical services.
“We need to reach kids early and empower them with tools and support before their problems become too severe,” says Langley physician Dr. Geeta Gupta, who is now instrumental in the efforts to establish a Foundry Langley.
“They need someone there to lean on.”
Mike Gee says he looks forward to the day when young people walk into Foundry Langley, with the confidence that they’ll be heard and respected.
“Foundry will help young people. It will help to stop the stigma of getting help for mental health issues, and young people will feel comfortable going there. They’ll be in their own social groups, and they won’t feel judged.”
Ask Jerry Pol of Caliber Projects why the company is committing their time and construction management resources to their work on building Foundry, and his answer will be quick and definitive.
“Langley is our home,” says Pol, the business development manager at Caliber, a construction management firm specializing in building multi-family homes and commercial projects Langley.
“Many of us live, breathe, work and do pretty much everything in Langley.”
But that may only be part of the equation. While they’re embedded in the community and its physical growth, the company has the connections and resources to help construct the perfect space to welcome youth, as part of living out their core value "Love It" and their purpose of Building People.
Apart from their everyday work as builders and organizers of hundreds of subtrades, Caliber’s nearly 50 employees fulfill the company’s mandate to give generously to the community, by donating labour and/or funds to projects that specifically improve lives in the cities they work in.
Naturally, the opportunity to build Foundry, a hub that welcomes young people who need to consult with health care professionals and counsellors on anything from health needs, mental wellness and substance use issues, proved to be a perfect fit for Caliber’s corporate ethic.
They’ve taken on the renovation for the 7,600 square foot space at 20618 Eastleigh Crescent, which includes the building of clinical space where young people can speak to physicians or counsellors; a nursing station, laundry facilities, staff workstations, a demonstration kitchen and plenty of comfortable common space.
Though they’re not the biggest general contractor in the region, Caliber is among the busiest, and proving that they’re among the most philanthropic. For this project alone, they are donating $175,000 back to Foundry.
“A lot of the community commitment comes from the belief that we're blessed financially and therefore we need to help those in our community. In that way, we multiply the effect of our donations by inspiring dozens of others in the industry to shoulder up and help as well,” he says.
To allow them to donate as much as possible, Caliber encourages the sub-trades they hire to consider discounting their fee or giving back to the Foundry project. That appeal goes out to demolition and disposal industries steel stud and drywall installers, electrical, mechanical (plumbing, heating ventilation and air conditioning) experts, sprinkler installation, flooring installers, painters and more.
So far, every partner in the subtrades and within local government has responded with enthusiasm over the Foundry project, Pol says.
Not only have the sub-trades and partners jumped in eagerly, but bureaucracy has been relatively swift. “The permitting timeline for this project is the quickest we at Caliber have ever seen!”
He says he’s not surprised by the response.
“Foundry will have a great impact on the community once it’s done, and that impact is what it’s all about for Caliber: reaching out to people who need help.”
When Tim and Petra Bontkes founded Infinity Properties Group 20 years ago, their vision lay far beyond developing communities through bricks and mortar.
Infinity Properties launched its land development and management business in 2001, and pivoted to designing and building neighbourhoods in 2011. With this shift to community-building, they expanded their presence within Langley with Heart & Soul, a company-wide philanthropic program that focuses on the needs of Langley’s most vulnerable. The Infinity team gives to animal protection agencies, families and women in need, and causes related to youth mental health and wellness—specifically Encompass Services.
“There is nothing more valuable than investing in our youth. They are our future,” says Petra Bontkes. She and Tim Bontkes are parents to four teenaged children.
When the Bontkeses heard that Encompass’s professionals would be helping youth in Langley, they jumped at the chance to give $150,000, a landmark donation, to make an even bigger difference in Langley.
“Knowing that Encompass is partnering with Foundry Langley feels like a dream team partnership,” she adds. “We feel that Foundry Langley will prove to be an invaluable resource for our youth in Langley to not just survive, but to thrive.”
For nearly 40 years, Robert Renaud and Sophie Lussier have been central in the everyday lives of youth. Over the last seven years as Franchises of four McDonald's restaurants in Langley, they have been very active in supporting and giving back to the community.
Over that time, Robert has employed more than 1,000 young people, and served even more as they congregate for fun, food and social connection at any of four McDonald’s restaurants in Langley.
Along with wife Sophie Lussier, who has a history in education and as a high school vice-principal, and their children, he recognizes the impact that community work and leadership can make on the lives of young people who need help. Foundry Langley’s focus on youth mental health resonates with the family’s identity and what they’ve experienced as businesspeople and educators of young people, says Rob Renaud. The family is supporting Foundry Langley with a gift of $100,000.
“The strength of the program is how services are wrapped around the young person,” he says. “There’s no need to travel from professional to professional repeating their story over and over again. Foundry will bring all the resources to support our youth under one roof—a home.”
Nick Nuraney sees the value in steady, consistent progress. In fact, his entire business has been built on it. Nick took on his first job at an early age at one of his father’s A&W restaurants. Decades later, this second-generation Langley resident owns 10 A&W franchises, six of them in Langley.
As his father taught him, business is one thing, but community-building is an integral part of being a good citizen. So today, he and his family devote themselves to improving the lives of people with disabilities; they also donated generously to LMH’s Emergency Response Campaign.
Nick Nuraney says his family sees Foundry Langley as a catalyst for change in the lives of youth who need help but have never known where to find it in a safe space defined by privacy and respect.
As a longtime employer of youth, he recognizes the need to reach out to youth at risk, so he and his family donated $100,000 to help fund Foundry Langley’s programs and services.
“Langley needs Foundry because it’s a one-stop shop and a place where youth can feel comfortable before they need help. And Foundry Langley is a start. The impact might take time but every life that is changed is a step forward.”
“Langley is growing quickly and having a localized place for youth to get the help and support they need is something that we need to help make happen.”
That’s a concern that Neil Chrystal keeps in mind as he leads a team that has built more than 30,000 homes across Greater Vancouver. As president and CEO of Polygon Homes, he and his staff make it a point to reach beyond the multi-family communities they construct, to the social and cultural endeavours that add value to the lives of every resident. “Foundry's focus on youth struck a chord with us as our youth are the future, so it's imperative to ensure there is support for them to flourish and succeed,” says Neil Chrystal, president and CEO of Polygon Homes.
He connects the rapid growth of Langley to the growing urgency to promote young people’s health and wellness so they feel confident in the face of the challenges they’ll face as they grow into adulthood. To that end, Polygon Homes has donated $50,000 to help fund Foundry Langley’s programs and services.
“By combining health and social services, Foundry Langley will provide a holistic approach that should better assist our youth in overcoming challenges and help them to contribute and connect with society at large.”
Recognizing that the Foundry will significantly expand and improve mental health, substance use, and social services available to youth within the Langleys, Township of Langley Council voted to contribute $250,000 towards the project.
To encourage additional donations from the community, the Township contributed the funding as a matching gift campaign, meaning that the Township will match additional community donations towards the project, dollar-for-dollar, up to $250,000.
At the time of the Township's gift announcement on December 13, 2021, the fundraising campaign was at 60 per cent of the $2.1 million goal.
To make a donation and have your gift matched, visit FoundryLangley.ca/donate.
George and Sylvia Melville’s generous donation to Foundry Langley carries on the family tradition of supporting education and health care groups and transforming the lives of vulnerable youth.
George Melville is chairman and owner of Melville Global Investments Inc., which includes ownership in Mr. Lube, Naramata Benchland Properties, and Bamboo World Kitchen.
As dedicated philanthropists, George and Sylvia stand behind organizations that aid vulnerable populations, including young people.
Union Gospel Mission and Covenant House, Rick Hansen Foundation, various BC hospitals and Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) have all grown and benefited from the Melville family’s generosity.
Their philanthropic outreach has expanded to the Okanagan, where they’ve enriched UBC medical student training at Penticton Regional Hospital.
George Melville has served on the boards of the Premier’s Economic Counsel, Science World and KPU, where he was chancellor for six years.
He received an honorary doctorate from KPU,and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Franchise Association; he’s been named an Entrepreneur of the Year and was recognized with the Order of British Columbia in 2018.
When they’re not working, George and Sylvia Melville travel and spend time with their son, daughter and five grandchildren.
Julie-Anne and Kent Sillars believe in letting home, hearth, and heart guide them in every decision they make in their own lives and in their business as builders/developers at Vesta Properties.
This was the case when the couple named their company Vesta (Greek for ‘Heart or Hearth’ of the home ) and then when they turned their attention to their favourite causes, following their hearts on the path that led them to Foundry Langley. Julie-Anne, a former cabinet designer, and Kent, an accountant, founded Vesta Properties in 2000. Based in Langley, the founders and their business partners built Vesta Properties into master plan developers for communities in BC and Alberta over the next two decades, including Langley’s Latimer Heights, Latimer Village, Milner Heights and Brookswood Mills as well as the first two towers in Langley in Latimer Heights.
As Vesta Properties grew, the Sillars family looked beyond business and into the wider community for opportunities to make an impact. After getting to know many families who’ve made Langley their home, the Sillars – parents of two young adult men and one teen boy – recognized the urgent need among youth in Langley.
Today the family is active as a key sponsor of Nightshift Street Ministries, which reaches out to young people in need of a hand up in times of life crises, addiction and homelessness. In this work and in her work as a track coach for youth, Julie-Anne noticed that during the COVID-related shutdowns of schools, recreation facilities, and community snack programs, young people were left adrift, isolated, and purposeless.
When they heard about Foundry, they knew the timing was perfect; the cause had already lodged in their hearts, she says.
“We are proud to support the Foundry to assist them in offering mental health, substance use support, primary care, peer support and social services to our youth in Langley,” says Julie-Anne Sillars. “It’s something Langley youth really need right now.”