“I was born drug and alcohol addicted, which means that my mother was in bad shape.  So I have a passion for helping people who live with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.”

Amber Rainshadow was born weighing three pounds, five ounces. Doctors gave her a life expectancy of four months.

But this remarkable woman is now 54 years old, grateful for her life, and determined to give back.

Amber spent her childhood in foster care.  Her first language was sign language.

“I didn’t speak until I was ten.”

When she aged out of care “I was discharged from the foster care system in Alberta, and came here with no transitional care.”

Amber lived in a group home for a while, then a friend spotted an ad, and asked her “what do you think about living on your own?’   ‘Me? Ahhhhh, maybe’ ” Amber replied with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

The ad her friend had seen was from Pacifica Housing, one of Vancouver Island’s largest affordable housing providers.

“We have over 1,200 units throughout Vancouver Island,” says Emily Cabrera, fund development coordinator for Pacifica Housing.

“In Victoria, Saanich, Duncan and Nanaimo.  Our aim is to make better lives through affordable homes and community connections.”

“The most amazing part about Pacifica,” says Amber “is that I said ‘Look…’ and was I was just starting to be brave, ‘I can’t read, so you’re going to have to help me fill out the forms.’  They read every single form to me, and showed me where to sign.”

That was 30 years ago.

“She is someone who is a perfect example of what having housing security can do to somebody,” says Cabrera. “She’s flourishing. She’s such a light in the community, and she is constantly looking for ways to advocate for others and to give back.”

But as Amber got older, her body began falling apart.

“I couldn’t sit up… I couldn’t move my hands, my neck, or anything.”

Amber pleaded for a sports physiotherapist and was connected with Jenny Daniels.

“And from then on she became a surrogate parent to me, and that’s why I can do what I do, and I continue to do it in honour of her.”

Tragically, Jenny died of breast cancer, on Valentine’s Day, 2012. And so, to honour her surrogate mom, every year since, on the 14th of February, Amber completes a 5K fundraising swim.

“She is such an inspiration for us here,” says Ruth Smith from Saanich Commonwealth Place, one of the pools where Amber swims.

“We’re just so proud of her, and the fundraising that she’s done! We treasure every time she comes in with her and her lovely companion dog Glimmer.”

Amber is hoping to raise $5000, which she is donating to Pacifica Housing’s Youth programs.   “The support that I’ve gotten from Pacifica is what I would consider over and above” says Amber proudly.

Veronica Cooper