October is foster family month in British Columbia where 7,200 youths are taken in by caregivers who provide them a safe and loving environment.
In Prince Rupert, John Wick opened his home for foster care this year with his partner.
“There’s a need for it in this town being that a lot of kids are having to be sent so far away that the family had trouble getting in touch with them,” Wick said.
Since May, Wick and his partner have filled their home with four siblings, three boys and a girl. The children get to stay in their community, rather than being sent to Smithers or Prince George, and the family of kids get to stay together under Wick’s care.
Helping those in need stems from his own history. The towering man, donning a tattoo on his forearm of two hands holding a cross in front of a heart with the word “faith,” had a gentle demeanour as he held his warm cup of tea and retold his past.
Wick’s family has been in the community since before the First World War. His grandparents used to run a restaurant with a clandestine gambling joint in the back.
His father’s family were boat builders. His grandfather built boats in Cow Bay and Wick worked at their shop with his brothers. The last boat he helped him build was when he was 19-years-old in 1973. Education wasn’t a priority for him, and he made a career out of fishing.
“I was working on draggers, seine boats, halibut boats, whatever I could work on the water,” he said.
After he got married, he started working for a tow boat operation but was laid off after five years. He dove back into fishing until 2003 when he figured it was time to get out of fishing and get an education. He had also moved away from Prince Rupert after he split with his wife.
When he was 50-years-old he studied social work in Nanaimo at Malaspina University, now Vancouver Island University.
“Then I was offered a job in a men’s recovery house for alcoholics and addicts,” Wick said. “It was great. I had 35 years of research and I thought I might as well put it to use. I’m a recovering addict and I’m not afraid to say that.”
At the recovery house the program was abstinence based and didn’t put the men on methadone. Some of the men had been living in the back alleys in Vancouver for 20 to 30 years and some were able to get clean after going through the program. “Not all of them, but the ones that did have a real beautiful life,” he said. “I found a good life.”
Wick decided to get clean years before working at the recovery house when he had met up with old friends who were able to pull themselves out of a similar situation. He followed the same program and went to meetings wanting to change his life.
He still goes to meetings even today. “That will never leave. You won’t be cured but you can recover,” he said.
After five years at the recovery house, and 12 years away from the North Coast, he returned to Prince Rupert three years ago.
When his children started having children he felt the need to come back to watch them grow up and to be in their lives. He has two daughters, two sons and six grandchildren. The latest, a granddaughter, was born on Sept. 1.
“It’s pretty cool because they’ve never seen me loaded and they never will have to. That’s my biggest thing in life is that nobody will. I can’t change what I was before. I can’t turn back the hands of time but nobody has to see me loaded from this point,” he said.
Getting his family back, watching them go through the hallmark moments of life — graduations, weddings and having children — is the biggest bonus to changing his life.
For others looking for help, he said he’s there for them as well.
With his partner, who has custody of her 11-year-old grandson, they are finding fulfillment in helping other children who need a safe space to grow.
In May, when the four foster children first moved into their home they were shy. Now, there are trinkets over the home, such as cards and paper flowers they’ve hand crafted for their caregivers, showing their appreciation for taking them in.