Formerly homeless man with autism creates free treasure hunting group in Lake Cowichan

Andrew is wearing a pirate patch over his right eye and carrying two big bags on his back. This is not the path he expected to be walking now, especially after his early academic success.

“I skipped three grades,” Andrew says. “Seven, eight, and nine.”

Andrew was told his I.Q. was very high, and his math marks were the best. They also said he had autism.

“I hear all the conversations at once,” he says gesturing all around us.

When I say that must overwhelming, he nods his head in agreement. “Always.”

There are many more things, like filling out forms. Andrew says it’s so challenging to do it, he’s missed out on opportunities for support. He says it led to a life without a home and little food.

“My physical body started deteriorating,” he says, with tears welling. “Every day it got harder to work because I would hurt and then I would have problems because I would have to carry everything.”

Andrew says he carried the physical and emotional weight of having all his belongs on his back for years, but never alleviated it with drugs or alcohol. After eventually finding a stable home and a loving relationship, Andrew realized there was one thing he did crave: an Easter egg hunt.

“I really just wanted one to be a kid again,” he says. “Just for a day.”

That led Andrew to wonder if he could find the same feeling of unbridled joy with an expanded scavenger hunt instead:

“Why don’t I do it for the community?!”

After a lifetime of facing his own obstacles, Andrew started capitalizing on the advantages of his autism to help others.

“I want to make sure that kids who don’t have money and moms who might not have enough to do extras can show-up with no barriers,” he says.

Andrew used his unique abilities to find a way to buy toys on his limited income and created the free Lake Cowichan Treasure Hunters group. Every Saturday, at 11 a.m., he posts clues to find a pirate’s bounty, which includes a treasure box containing a real silver coin.

The Facebook page is filled with pictures of smiling kids wearing pirate patches and holding the treasure they found.

“The kids and parents who talk about it makes me feel like I made the right call,” Andrew says.

The group’s attracted more than 300 members and prompted a local business — The Tube Shack — to sponsor the cost of the toys.

After years of struggling to find a home, Andrew is now building a community by spreading joy.

“I feel like the king of the world! I couldn’t be happier,” Andrew says. “If I never became wealthy, but this continued, I’d be satisfied beyond satisfied.”