A pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries and a resource person for Archway Community Services who works with those who are marginalized has been named the recipient of UFV’s Young Distinguished Alumni award for 2019.
Jesse Wegenast received the award for his extensive and wide-ranging community work.
Wegenast earned his bachelor of arts in geography at UFV in 2012, but, even before graduation, he was organizing free meals for Abbotsford’s most marginalized citizens in Jubilee Park.
“I have always felt a pull toward helping people in need,” says Wegenast, who grew up in the Greendale area of Chilliwack and attended Sardis Secondary.
“Even while I was a young adult, I started just talking to the people living under an overpass in Chilliwack, getting to know them better.”
He has spent the past decade as one of Abbotsford’s leading advocates for the rights of the homeless and those dealing with addictions.
Over the past 12 years, Wegenast has led many volunteers in serving the community with the 5 and 2 Ministries.
He has served as coordinator for the Abbotsford Homeless Count, and took the lead in the development and implementation of Abbotsford’s Extreme Heat Response protocols.
In 2017, he worked to create B.C.’s first age-specific shelter for adults after identifying a community need for those 50 years and older.
As part of a program funded by BC Housing, Wegenast serves as the director of the shelter and oversees a staff composed almost entirely of individuals receiving disability benefits.
He has served on many committees over the years, including the Abbotsford Connect planning committee, the Extreme Weather Shelter planning committee, the Coordinated Intake and Referral Design committee, and the Abbotsford Outreach and Shelter Working Group.
As part of the multi-agency group Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm (SWaRH), he helped establish harm reduction services in Abbotsford.
Working with the Abbotsford Division of Family Practice and the Women’s Resource Society, he successfully secured funding for a post-assault care nurse practitioner.
“My faith tells me to love thy neighbour as thyself. I believe we have to look out for people if we are in a position to do so,” Wegenast says.
“I grew up in a stable, secure family, but I became aware that not everyone enjoys such stability. The more I got to know people living on the streets, the more I got the feeling that the general public does not know what it’s like to be poor. It’s no wonder that those who are poor often feel absolutely hopeless.”
In addition to his work with the 5 and 2 Ministries, Wegenast is an autism support worker, and recently started a small chicken farm and business.
This past summer, he also launched the Cultus Lake Flower Festival from his family farm in Yarrow.
Wegenast said it’s an honour to receive the UFV award.
“I don’t do things for acknowledgement, but it was very nice to be recognized,” he said.