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Family reunites after 50 years

As Danny Vollans pushed open the door to a Burnaby hotel lobby in early March he was feeling nervous and emotional. He was about to have an experience most people never will — a meeting with two siblings after 54 years apart.

In the lobby, a brother and a sister sat on the couch, waiting for him. They sprang up to exchange hugs and tears. Then there was talk – about the past, how they came to be separated and what had happened since then.

“It was a good visit. It was pretty emotional,” Danny, 63, says.

Danny as a child (top row, second from the right) with his classmates.

Danny as a child (top row, second from the right) with his classmates.

“I never thought I’d get my family back again.”

Now he’s built a kind of shrine to his reunited family on a desk in his apartment. Photos of the many additional family members he’s discovered he has are set around the most precious item of all — a card made by a grand-niece. It’s signed by family members sharing how blessed they feel to be reunited with Danny.

Born with an intellectual disability, Danny was placed in Woodlands — one of many institutions across Canada for people who have disabilities that have been closed in the last few years. Battling alcoholism as a young man, Danny has been sober for more than 30 years.

Four years ago, he was facing a new set of difficulties as a landlord was clearly taking financial advantage of him.

“In a nutshell he was in a really substandard living arrangement,” says Tony Matijiw, an outreach worker with the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI), who was referred to work with Danny in August 2009.

“(Danny) was isolated, unemployed, with no identification papers, and was spending most of his money on rent, affecting his nutrition.”

Several of Danny's siblings today.

Several of the siblings Danny has reunited with after 54 years apart.

Within about six months, Danny was able to change his life for the better, working hard to do so while BACI team members and other agencies supported him in making changes.

Most significantly, he was able to find a new living space that is vastly different from his former place.  It has consistent heat and water and the rent is subsidized. He has good neighbours and participates in different ways in his community. Tony is there for him as a friend and professional support.

Danny’s reunion with his family followed a news story published about his new-found lease on life by the BACI Blast, a news service contracted by BACI to engage its community in sharing their stories.

In spring 2011, BACI Blast journalist Ryan Rogers interviewed Danny and Tony for a story that highlighted some of Danny’s achievements and changes and noted who and what had been instrumental in creating those successes.

Eight months after the story was published online, a comment appeared below it.

“I am wondering if the Danny Vollans in this article is my brother? Was he born on Jan 27, 1949? If so, I may be his sister.”

It took some time, but with various people’s efforts, arrangements were made for Danny to reconnect with that sister and another brother.

The two flew in from their respective homes in Winnipeg and Kamloops to meet Danny.

They definitely plan to keep connected going forward, Danny says.

Tony says it’s extremely gratifying to see this kind of outcome for someone he works with.

“As an outreach worker, you try your best and some situations work out and some don’t, and you see a lot of ups and downs.

“So to see a situation like this turn out the way it does, it’s really uplifting for us too.”

And if there’s anyone deserving of such an outcome, it’s Danny, Tony adds.

Given both his difficult past and the fact that Danny has always tried hard to do the right thing in spite of it, “it’s good to see that he has been given some opportunities and he’s gotten something back from it and he’s reunited with his family,” Tony says.

“It’s really awesome.”

While there were certainly many different parts and key players in this whole story, Tony cites the BACI Blast news piece celebrating Danny’s success as a vital link.

“If that story had never been written and published, he may have never reconnected with his family,” Tony says.

The story that sparked it all: Danny turns over a new leaf

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.ca.


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