Teesha Sharma, a youth advocate and winner of a 2018 citizen of the year award, has passed away.
The 27-year-old died on Feb. 15. The cause of death is not yet known, but the B.C. Coroners Service is investigating.
Sharma worked as a youth services program director at the CEED Centre Society, where she created barrier-free programs for youth ages 13 to 24 years old.
The programs are accessible for youth and don’t have intrusive intake requirements.
She also started Blue Door Youth Services, which includes a program called Go Figure, a youth-led support group for youth 13 to 24 years old with anxiety and depression.
The group meets twice a month and is a mix of round-table discussions with individual check-ins.
A mentor training component teaches community members how to understand, identify and support youth struggling with mental health issues and provides insight into how to best communicate and empower disenfranchised youth.
Last year, Sharma was named Citizen of the Year in the Under 40 category by the Maple Ridge Community Foundation, and was a finalist for the YMCA’s Power of Peace award.
Sharma had to overcome major obstacles in her own life to achieve the successes she did.
When she was 16-years old, the Ministry of Children and Family Development put her in an apartment by herself. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and went into social isolation for quite some time.
“I can’t say how many times I attempted suicide. A lot,” Sharma said last year.
Then, at 22 years old, she was about to make another attempt to take her own life when she realized that if she did kill herself, all of the abuse she endured would not only have taken away the years that she lived, but those that were to come.
Sharma went back to school and decided to find a way to change the way that society works with youth. She graduated class valedictorian.
One of her major missions in life was to start long-term youth housing.
”I went to every organization in Maple Ridge, knocked on the door and told them my story and what I wanted to do,” Sharma said at the time.
“Everybody just said, ‘That’s nice, but we can’t help you.”
That’s when she knocked on the door of the CEED Centre.
“What her legacy in the community is that she helped literally hundreds of people,” said Christian Cowley, executive-director of the CEED Centre.
“More specifically, she provided one-on-one assistance to all the kids in her Go Figure program, which she designed and delivered and its kept many of those kids alive who are on the edge and helped them find their way in life,” he added.
Sharma’s circle of influence wasn’t just local. She was asked to speak in Dublin, Ireland, and was going to be speaking in Australia in October.
Most recently she gave a presentation in Montreal on how to support kids who are being trafficked or exploited.
“She was tortured as a child,” said Cowley.
“She was abused and trafficked, so she had a very intimate and first-hand knowledge of what that feels like. She had a very intimate and first-hand knowledge of what it felt to have no self-worth and was able to work with kids and adults who suffered from the same state.”
Sharma’s influence in the community, Cowley said, was tremendous.
”She was saved by a safe house, a youth safe house, at the age of 16, and she may have died because there wasn’t a safe house.”
Former city councillor and school board trustee Cheryl Ashlie found out about Sharma’s passing over the weekend.
She first met Sharma on the school board when Sharma was involved with the district student advisory committee.
“I loved her. I loved her energy and her passion to help other students,” said Ashlie.
They were also on the Youth Wellness Centre committee together in 2014 and 2015, when they were tasked with picking a location out for the centre, which was originally placed at the Greg Moore Youth Centre.
“She was genuinely caring about other people. She really wanted to use her past experiences to help others and she wanted to tell her story and share her story so others could benefit,” Ashlie added.
Ron Antalek, a former citizen of the year, worked with Sharma on many committees, including the Youth Wellness Centre, the creation of Foundry and at the Greg Moore Youth Centre.
He celebrated her whole journey with her last year when she took home the Maple Ridge Community Foundation’s Under 40 award.
“Teesha Sharma is an amazing, amazing lady,” he said.
Her biggest impact, said Antalek, was helping and inspiring youth.
“She was inspirational to the youth. She had developed herself where she was so shy, she could not stand up in front of people and she had developed her confidence. She was empowering women and she was empowering girls and she was empowering youth both boys and girls.”
Antalek said she was an inspirational leader.
“She was helping so many youth, leading by example, leading from experience and empowering those youth,” he said.
His favourite memory of her will be her smile and her hugs.
“Every time I saw Teesha, I would give her a hug and she received my hug with that Teesha smile. That’s what I will remember,” said Antalek.
What Cowley will remember about her is that she had a wicked sense of humour and was always truthful.
“[She] just wanted to help people.”
Funeral arrangements are still being finalized, but will take place the second weekend in March at Burnett Fellowship Church, 20639 123 Ave. in Maple Ridge.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Youth Wellness Centre.