Photography by Deddeda White Image by: Photography by Deddeda White
A series of devastating events
One day she was a happy, popular high-school student, one of the "cool kids." Her future was bright. But then she found lumps in both her breasts, learned her mother had been sexually assaulted, was told that her estranged father had died and, in a bizarre random incident, had a bullet graze her ankle (a car pulled over on the street and a man shot at her while she was out running one night).
Suddenly, things didn't seem so safe and secure in Kennedy's world after all. She went into free fall: She became anxious about everything; suffered physically, emotionally and mentally; and was eventually hospitalized (weighing just over 90 pounds at five-foot-eight) and diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But that was just the beginning of her ordeal. After three months of healing and getting healthier in the hospital, Kennedy returned to school, thinking she would take up where she left off with her friends. But her friends had moved on. She was ostracized, ate lunch alone every day, was the target of bullying and became "that crazy mental girl." It all led to her feeling "isolated and worthless," she says.
Deciding to fight back
This time, though, she decided to push back against callousness and cruelty, and help those who, like her, felt judged and excluded. She started volunteering at a local soup kitchen called The 7-10 Club.
"I started to notice how many people were not all that different from me," Kennedy says. We can call it a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God epiphany – except that she had been there. She started to realize there were problems requiring attention right in her own backyard. "You always see commercials about India or other depressed areas," she says. "But so many people in Nanaimo, B.C., are on social assistance. Maybe before we help other countries, we should help out people in our own country."
Her STAND against poverty
Kennedy started humbly, with bagels and potatoes. She formed a school program to help hungry students, personally serving about 50 bagels a day so they could concentrate on their studies and not be distracted by empty stomachs. From there, she created STAND (Stand Up, Stand Together, Stand Strong), a nonprofit organization aimed at combatting poverty where it hits hardest: the food supply. Earlier this year, she organized a benefit concert called Songs for Spuds; proceeds went toward The Potato Project, in which homeless people were fed chili and baked potatoes with all the trimmings (chives, bacon bits, cheese and sour cream – yum!), and were entertained and given a warm, dry place to eat.
As her grandfather says, these simple acts are the beginning of a chain reaction. And you can bet, if you were hungry on that day, chili and a baked potato with all the trimmings really hit the spot.
|This story was originally titled "Me to We Award Winners" in the October 2013 issue. |
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