Courage to Come Back Awards: Recognizing ‘the heroes next door’

Last year's Courage To Come Back Awards Gala. Coast Mental Health Foundation

For sixteenth consecutive year, the Courage To Come Back Awards will be recognizing the people who have had the courage to overcome insurmountable challenges in their lives.

The awards were started in 1999 by Coast Mental Health and are handed out in six categories: Addiction, Medical, Mental Health, Physical Rehabilitation, Social Adversity and Youth.

Patricia Wiggins with Coast Mental Health says the awards raise awareness and understanding by sharing stories of people who have prevailed in the face of adversity.

She says it takes courage for a person with severe mental illness to step forward on the path to recovery.

“For 42 years Coast Mental Health has created programs and services to support Vancouver’s most seriously mentally ill,” says Wiggins. “The Courage to Come Back Awards honour the power of the human spirit to overcome all kinds of adversity.”

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This year’s recipients are:

Joe Calendino – Addiction

“Addiction” category award recipient Joe Caledino says hearing the news he was chosen as this year’s recipient was like winning the Stanley Cup.

Life started out good but things started to change in high school where he tried marijuana and harder drugs.

Caledino regained control of his life after graduation, but a blast from the past got him into his old lifestyle, causing him to become a drug addict and lose everything.

Until a police officer interfered, turning his life around.

Calendino started taking courses at BCIT and met his new wife through a youth organization that now gives him an opportunity to give back.


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Paul Caune – Medical

Paul Caune of Burnaby is named the 2014 Courage To Come Back Award recipient in the Medical category.

Born with muscular distrophy, Caune uses a wheelchair and a breathing tube and has limited use of his limbs.

It was when Caune refused a transfer to a nursing home following a nine-month stint in the hospital at the age of 37 that he started a decade of fighting for the rights of the disabled.

Now 46, Caune lives independently with medical care at a Vancouver Resource Society apartment near Central Park in Burnaby.


Kris Stanbra – Physical Rehabilitation

Kris Stanbra of Castlegar is named the 2014 Courage To Come Back Award recipient in the Physical Rehabilitation category.

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In 1980 when Stanbra was 28 years old and newly married, she suffered a horrific car crash that broke her back. Doctors told her she would never walk again, I could never have children and her husband was going to leave her because 92 per cent of spouses leave their disabled partners.

An avid sports enthusiast  before her accident, Stanbra defied doctors and ended up keeping her husband; having two sons who are 31 and 29; and managed to walk again, albeit slowly.

With the attitude “it’s better to turn tragedy into triumph” Stanbra became involved in making her hometown of Castlegar more accessible for the disabled.


Jackie Hooper – Mental Health

Growing up in poverty, years in an abusive marriage and many bouts of depression were not enough to hold Jackie Hooper back.

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She somehow found the strength to live a full life and create a lasting and meaningful legacy for people with mental illness.


Brenda Gardiner – Social Adversity

At just five-years-old Brenda Gardiner saw what no child should ever see.

Her father murdered her mother in an alcoholic rage right before her eyes leaving Brenda and her four siblings without parents and without a home.

How she survived and what she continues to fight for is what makes Brenda one this year’s recipients of the courage to come back awards.


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Kennedy Baker – Youth

She is only 19 but has already dealt with more trauma than most people have in their entire lives.

As a teen,  Kennedy Baker had lumps removed from her breasts, saw her mother deal with sexual abuse,  and was shot, at random, while jogging.

All those events — within a year —  sent Kennedy into a tailspin.

But she came back with a mission.


The awards will be awarded on Thursday, May 8 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Global BC is the official sponsor, and former Global BC anchor Deborra Hope will be hosting the awards gala.

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Use hashtags #couragetocomeback and #ctcb2014 to join the discussion on Twitter.