It all started with a warm embrace.
Five-year-old Andrew, struggling with fetal alcohol (FAS) and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) syndromes, had been bouncing around foster placements for years when he asked his Ranch Park elementary kindergarten teacher, Sandy Teel, for a hug.
The teacher and student quickly connected and a year later the Teels adopted Andrew, giving the young boy a “forever home” and helping to create a sense of stability in his life.
This week, the 18-year-old Coquitlam resident, who graduated from high school last month, was awarded the Coast Mental Health Foundation Courage to Come Back Award in the youth category, recognizing the teen’s charitable contributions and advocacy for change in the foster-care system.
“I want to be known for who I am, not what I have,” he said. “All I can do is decide what matters to me and work hard to make it happen.”
PTSD and FAS have severely impacted Teel’s cognitive abilities, learning, mobility and processing skills.
Despite these limitations, he said he was determined to find ways to overcome the barriers. He defied expectations by excelling in school and sports, while developing a deep sense of empathy for animals and other people.
In Grade 5, he donated his birthday money to the SPCA and began raising money for Covenant House, eventually contributing $60,000 with his Twonies for Teens campaign. Covenant House provides services and hope to young people fleeing abusive homes or who have aged out of foster care, an issue that is near and dear to Teel.
The award he received this week is not the first time Teel has been recognized for his hard work.
In 2017, 900 people in the Vancouver Convention Centre ballroom gave him a spontaneous standing ovation when he received the Outstanding Youth Philanthropy award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
“Andrew has already become an empowering force for good, and a role model for others in his determination to overcome adversity and give back,” said the Coast Mental Health Foundation in a press release.
To learn more about Andrew’s story, go to www.couragetocomeback.ca.