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Founder of New West-based non-profit earns provincial Medal of Good Citizenship

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Gale Stewart - file
Gale Stewart is one of 14 recipients of the province's Medal of Good Citizenship for outstanding service and commitment to helping others.

A woman who has been helping vulnerable youth and preventing them from becoming homeless for more than three decades is among 14 people being recognized by the province.

Gale Stewart, founder of Aunt Leah’s Place, is among the British Columbians who will receive the province’s Medal of Good Citizenship for their outstanding service and commitment to helping others in their communities.

"This important honour recognizes people who have gone above and beyond to offer help and kindness to others during these exceptionally challenging times," Premier John Horgan said in a news release. "The latest recipients of the Medal of Good Citizenship make our province a better place through their contributions and provide an example we can all aspire to meet in our communities."

Launched in 2015, the Medal of Good Citizenship recognizes individuals who, through exceptional dedication and service, have made outstanding contributions to their communities without expectation of remuneration or reward.

To date, 90 citizens and two communities have received the medal of Good Citizenship. The latest recipients will be presented with their medals at a virtual ceremony in a few months.

“As founder and visionary of Aunt Leah’s Place, an award winning non-profit charitable organization in New Westminster that works at the entry and exit points of the foster care system, Gale has made a lasting and significant difference in thousands of young people’s lives,” said a biography compiled about Stewart for the Medal of Good Citizenship. “She is a source of innovative, compassionate leadership, is a generous leader and role model, and has inspired a legacy of care by building a lasting family and community for those who need it most – youth in and from the foster care system.”

According to the biography, the concept at the core of Stewart’s work is that nobody ages-out from a family.

“Aunt Leah’s is the only service provider in B.C. with no-age out limit,” said the biography. “This is a testament to Gale’s passion and tenacity to the idea that every foster youth deserves a caring and compassionate family member on their side.”

Stewart founded Aunt Leah’s Place in 1988. It originally started as a project to assist teen moms, but later expanded to included programs aimed at helping children in foster care from becoming homeless.

"We do specifically help foster children learn skills so they don't become homeless and we help teenage moms and homeless moms on their journey to continue to be able to support their children," Stewart told the Record in an earlier interview. "So it's like the two ends of the spectrum. Those children who are coming out of foster care, we help them with housing, employment and education so they don't become homeless, and we help the young moms ... so they don't lose custody of their children."

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus