21-Year-Old President of CYPLO (Canadian Youth Pro-Life organization) wants the world to know she’s Pro-Life. That’s why she stuck a bumper sticker ‘Rescue Our Future: Save the Unborn’ onto the back of the family pick-up truck – a Dodge.
But not long ago she and her younger brother, Rob, were driving along the highway near their home in Bracebridge (a resort town north of Toronto) when a dilapidated pick-up truck, a Chevrolet, passed them. As it drove by, a sign went up in the window: “Rescue Your Future: Scrap the Dodge.”
Coby loved it.
She says that bumper stickers are a quick way of educating people about abortion and if a joke follows – all the better.
With her healthy good looks and long red hair (worn in a braid), she’s a wholesome image for pro-life youth. In 1990 she was acclaimed President of CYPLO and will seek a second and final term in October 1991.
She’s a second generation pro-lifer. Her mother, Els Vandenberg, was a member of Right to Life in London, Ontario, where she also taught Natural Family Planning for years. Coby says she grew up with pro-life pamphlets all over the house, so it was natural for her “to fall into pro-life activism.”
Her Dutch-born parents and their six children (Coby’s two older brothers, a younger brother and twin sisters) have always lived on a hobby farm with a few animals out in the country.
The children were born and raised in Lucan outside of London, Ontario, where they went to school.
In 1987, when Coby was 16, her father left his office manager’s position in London and moved his family north to Bracebridge where he started his own building business. Now they live on another hobby farm out of Bracebridge.
Coby never liked school very much because it was so confining and structured, so she was delighted to graduated two years ago. During high school she worked as a cashier at the A&P and in the meat room, but she longed to be outdoors working for herself. One summer she worked for College Pro painters; and when they asked her to return the next year, she decided she could do as well on her own, so she started her own painting business.
Her first job was painting a run-down warehouse. It took her a week just to scrape off the old paint, an exercise that tested her stamina and sanity. Still the thrill of going out to do an estimate and then getting the job was a “real high,” she says. Delighted when she got her first contract, she danced around the kitchen at home, amazed that her idea worked.
“Painting is a mindless job but it gives you time to think,” she reflects.
Coby says her mother has been an inspiration in helping her to hone pro-life views.
“I think my mother is a great lady. She’s intelligent and has common sense. I can talk to her about anything. Imagine, she emigrated from Holland, alone at 18, and later found sponsors for her relatives.”
Still Coby is her own person and says that although her family attends daily Mass, she does too, because she appreciates the value of the Mass, not because her mother tells her to.
In 1984 her mother gathered the family together and joined a busload of pro-lifers coming to Toronto to participate in a large Right to Life Mother’s Day Rally. That Sunday, scores of Pro-lifers marched from the Ontario Legislative Buildings at Queen’s Park past Morgentaler’s downtown abortuary. Even though 13-year old Coby didn’t fully understand what went on inside Morgentaler’s, the hushed and somber procession passing his ‘house of death’ raised her awareness about abortion. She would long remember it.
When she was 15, she went to Peterborough to attend her first CYPLO conference.
A dynamic young priest, Father Tom Lynch (a pro-life activist in his university days), addressed the group and charged youth to become involved in the struggle against abortion. Then back home in London, his friend Father Mike Dwyer began a Youth group. Coby joined, and once a month the young people would hold a candlelight vigil outside Victoria Hospital where abortions were done, and then later meet for discussions.
She attended her second CYPLO conference in London the next year and a third one in 1988 in Cambridge, where she ran into Father Tom again. He and a young pro-life activist, John LaMire, suggested that she run for a CYPLO executive position. Reluctantly she did and soon found herself its new Vice-President, a post she held for one year.
In 1990, she was acclaimed President of Saskatoon CYPLO conference, where she spoke to standing ovation. “They snagged me,” she says with a chuckle.
Coby thinks that CYPLO is an important arm of the pro-life movement because from youth will emerge pro-life politicians. Its aim is to involve young people in the life issue and the struggle against abortion. She wishes that as many youth would support protection for unborn human beings as they do vocally for animal rights. She’d like to raise their awareness by increasing CYPLO’s membership. To do so, she speaks to youth groups across the country.
In 1989 she spoke to the Edmonton CYPLO conference, as she did in Saskatoon in 1991; and over the past two years, new groups have formed in British Columbia and Alberta, joining Ontario, the first provincial group.
Last fall, for instance, she spoke to 500 youth in Prince Edward Island and she hopes CYPLO will spread to the Maritimes and to other provinces.
As well, she travels to conferences to keep abreast of the new life issues and to meet other youth groups.
In January 1991 she and 21 young Canadians drove to Washington, D.C. to attend the American Collegians for Life Conference; and in April 1991 she flew to California (sponsored by Bracebridge Right to Life) to attend the Human Life International Conference which she found inspiring and informative.
“It gave me a new kick to start pro-life work all over again,” she says.
In CYPLO’s 1991 spring newsletter Coby writes that it only takes one person to speak up for life but it is better if one is well informed about pro-life issues. She urges members to educate themselves by reading pro-life materials; to attend conferences and be active and visible by joining demonstrations, pickets and candlelight vigils outside abortuaries or hospitals; and to wear pro-life T-shirts, the ‘precious feet’ pin and use bumper stickers.
When asked what she likes best about being CYPLO’s president, she smiles broadly and says the people. “Pro-lifers are the best people in the world and the pro-life kids are super. Despite the struggle they’re in, they’re happy , optimistic and love life.”
With their love of life, Coby’s generation of pro-lifers want to redress the tragedy of their time and win the struggle against abortion. They sound like real winners.