Danielle Laviolette started crying when she found out she won the Courage to Come Back youth award for her volunteer work with kids in Surrey.
“I’ve never won anything this big like that before,” she recalled thinking.
“I guess I’ve been doing so good that I’m actually being recognized for what I do,” she thought.
When she got the call, she was on her way to volunteer at Metro Kids Society’s Kids Klub program.
The award, which Coast Mental Health Foundation organizes, celebrates five British Columbians “who have overcome illness or adversity and have ‘come back to give back’ to their communities, and to inspire others to do the same,” reads a post on the Courage to Come Back website.
Life has not always been easy for her.
Growing up, she had a hard time making friends at school, which Laviolette said is likely due to her autism. In the fall 0f 2022, she found her mother unresponsive in their home. Due to the unfamiliar sounds and noises at the hospital, she was not able to visit her mom. Her mom died a few days later.
Despite all the challenges she has faced, she continues to give back.
“It was very hard for me being autistic because is was very hard to make friends. Volunteering helps me to not be stuck at home and I love working with the kids,” Laviolette said.
The 19-year-old Surrey resident has been a dedicated volunteer at Metro Kids Society since 2022.
The Society runs Christian programs for youth in low-income neighbourhoods throughout Metro Vancouver. Along with volunteering at the Kids Klub every Saturday, she also mentors kids in grades 5- 8 in at-risk neighbourhoods in Surrey.
She also organized and sorted 800 Christmas gift boxes and ensured every child in her apartment complex received a gift.
Laviolette understands where many of these kids are coming from as she, too, grew up in a low-income family with two parents on disability.
She knows the importance of providing a safe space for kids.
This is what Metro Kids Society gave her.
A safe space where she felt known.
“It’s been quite fun and also quite relaxing for me because I have people who understand what my interests are and people over there who understand my autism.”
Laviolette first got involved about four years ago when a friend invited her out to one of its programs.
She has been an active member since and interned this summer. She hopes to attend art school one day.
“Danielle has become a well recognized and respected force for good in her neighborhood. She is a positive role model for those with autism other learning differences, speaking honestly about her challenges,” reads a post on the Courage to Come Back website.