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Nayler keeps late son's memory alive through community action

'My husband Tom and I wanted to use Ryan's lived experience to make a difference. We wanted what he went through to be used for good,' says Barrie woman behind Ryan's Hope

Positive thinking is a driving and transformative force for Christine Nayler, who turned the grief of losing her son to toxic drug poisoning into purpose by creating Ryan's Hope.

Christine’s days start with meditation, reciting the mantra “be the change you want to see in the world,” and then reading a daily quote or affirmation.

Every morning, she sets a goal of completing at least three-quarters of her 'to do' list, which always includes making a positive connection with at least one person each day, and trying to raise money to support her mission of providing for others.

It all began with her desire of starting an organization in Ryan's memory to honour who he was as a person and to help people that were struggling with the same issues he lived with.

“My husband Tom and I wanted to use Ryan's lived experience to make a difference," she tells BarrieToday. "We wanted what he went through to be used for good.”

What the organization would look like was not clear at that point, only the certainty that if Christine and Tom didn't find a way to turn their pain into purpose, they say their grief would swallow them up.

The insightful moment was when they became aware of a breakfast gap in the community due to COVID-19. Both early risers and former volunteers for the breakfast shift for Barrie Out of the Cold program, they thought it might be doable for them to step up for the cause. That’s when the Breakfast-To-Go program started.

“We bought a box of Tim Hortons coffee, some fruit and yogurt and showed up at the warming centre," Christine says.

They served five people on the first day, 10 on the next day and then more and more. With the help of local churches and community volunteers, they have been serving breakfast every day ever since.

“Having a reason to get up and knowing people who depend on us helped with our healing," she says. 

Christine recounts priceless moments, such as when Ryan's friends, whom she never knew, showed up at breakfast, shared funny or sweet stories about him, and told her what he meant to them.

Last week, one of her regular breakfast guests shared how Christine and Tom’s care had been so important to him and helped him get back on track.

“He said knowing that every morning there was someone there with a smile and a cup of coffee was a bright start to his day," she says. 

Christine noted that Ryan's Hope is not quite an organization, but rather a community.

“For some, we are like their family and we celebrate regular days and holidays together. Last week on my birthday, I was serenaded in song at breakfast by our friends," she says. 

Getting to know people she otherwise wouldn't have met, building connections and friendships with them, and watching their skills and confidence grow are the most gratifying for Christine.

“Our peer support volunteers all started out as guests of our Breakfast-To-Go program and now they are an important part of our street outreach team using their own living experience to help others," she says. 

To balance out the heaviest part of her routine as a helper, Christine says she spends at least 30 minutes each day in nature and some time with her grandchildren.

“I end each day with a moment of gratitude," she says. 

Ryan's Hope advocates for and supports people living with mental illness, substance abuse issues and experiencing homelessness.

For more information on the group, visit