For Jenni Johnson, sharing her love of art and crafts has become a way to engage with important issues — not just for herself, but for other youth in and from care.
Johnson is the recipient of the Demonstration of Achievement in Artistic Pursuits award, one of several honours given out during Child and Youth in Care Week (June 4-10, 2018) by a steering committee comprised of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks and other youth-focused organizations. The awards originated eight years ago because of advocacy by youth in and from care. This week is an opportunity to celebrate young people like Johnson for their diverse talents, accomplishments and resiliency, and show to them that there is a community that supports and stands with them.
“Art is supposed to make you feel something,” said Johnson, 19. “I use my photography to express my thoughts and experiences, but I’m just as glad to have people look at it through their own lens and twist it into a version that’s meaningful to them.”
Her photography is usually focused on social justice issues, and her typical subject matter — foster care and mental health — align with her life experiences.
Samples of her photographs include a cherry blossom stretching to peek out of the other side of a chain-link fence, and a broken down car overgrown with wildflowers and weeds.
“They both signify that where there is pain and suffering, there can also be a beautiful lesson. It’s easy to focus on the darkness, but it’s just as important to see the hope that grows and blooms amid the chaos,” Johnson said.
She also co-facilitates a group called Life Chats, designed especially for youth in or from the foster system, where she invites others to join her and paint, or participate in other forms of art.
“We just come together, have fun, where support happens naturally through conversation, and there’s a feeling of community,” she said.
That facilitator role gets put to use in her part-time position as a peer support worker at Foundry Abbotsford. The Foundry model, now open at five locations throughout the province, is a one-stop-shop that provides youth with health-care, mental-health and substance-use services, as well as social supports, all under one roof, in a safe and judgment-free environment.
The photography enthusiast grew up with a single mother who lives with severe depression, an illness Johnson herself continues to struggle with. The depression led to conflict between them. As a result, Johnson came into care at 16, until a friend’s mother took her in. She credits Katie Brook, a community youth worker in Abbotsford, and a ministry social worker, Cindy Brown, as her main supports during her time in care.
“Jenni has overcome and continues to overcome so many challenges in her life,” said Brook. “She has shown extraordinary courage, resiliency, and bravery and it has been my honour to be part of her journey.”
When Johnson reflects on her experience, she says affordable housing and ensuring that young adults have ongoing professional support, such as counselling, when they age out of care would be her top two suggestions for change that would ease the transition between living in care and creating a life of independence.
In the fall, she’s planning to attend University of the Fraser Valley in the social services diploma program. Once she has registered for classes, she can apply for the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program and support with living expenses through the Agreements with Youth Adults program.
Johnson said she’ll never stop taking photographs or expressing herself through art, and she thinks that using her own experience with mental health could be the best foundation toward a career in helping others.
That’s the very thing that has led to her advocacy through the arts in the first place.
- The Ministry of Children and Family Development partners with the Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks, the Adoptive Families Association of BC, the Indigenous Perspectives Society, the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia, First Call, and the Federation of Community Social Services of BC to host celebratory events around the province during BC Child and Youth in Care Week, and administer the awards.
Children and youth in care need diverse, loving and capable caregivers. Learn more about foster caregiving at: https://fosteringconnections.ca/
Other stories from Child and Youth in Care Week:
Former youth in care uses martial arts to explore his feelings and his future: https://news.gov.bc.ca/17315
From government care to helping others look and feel their best: https://news.gov.bc.ca/17332