This letter was sent to us from a young man who was part of our Youth In Care program.
Dear Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton,
My name is Christopher and I am treaty member of the Muskowekwan First Nation. I am going to share a bit of my background before I took part in the BGCBigs Youth in Care (YIC) group and became matched with my mentor Eric. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I experienced a variety of abuse, an unstable environment, and a transient lifestyle. My mother kicked me out of my house because of my sexual orientation and I was homeless for a couple months until I was accepted into the Inner City Youth Housing Project. Soon after I was connected to Child Welfare and went into care under a support and financial agreement, living independently with the support of a youth worker every second week in the McMan SIL(Semi-independent Living) program. I was seventeen years old, not knowing what being in care would mean for me, living on my own, and full of uncertainty of what my life would be like.
My youth worker encouraged me to join the BGCBigs YIC program. One of the main reasons for joining was to try to gain a sense of stability and consistency that was lacking in my own life. In addition, it offered the chance to connect to other youth in care going that are going through with similar experiences and to have someone genuinely care what happening in my life each week. YIC provided me with several layers of support; my peers, group mentors, a group facilitator, and my individual mentor. Most YIC youth will say that the connections we made through YIC group has created a sense of family that will last a lifetime. The program has an educational component, focusing on life skills to help us transition to adulthood and also provided us with leadership opportunities to affect positive change by sharing our stories with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate and the Alberta College of Social Workers. In addition, I was selected to attend a Big Brother Big Sisters of Canada national convention in Toronto and to participate in a Canadian youth leadership forum. All the Edmonton YIC youth participate in the Duke of Edinburgh program, with many completing the bronze and silver levels, and some now qualified for the gold level.
The YIC program provides youth in care the opportunity to be cared for, to have someone believe in them, advocate for them and feel supported in following our dreams. It has helped me focus on myself and to envision a life of endless possibilities: this was the first time in my life I could look towards the future. I was matched with my mentor Eric through YIC: he has always been there for me and will always be in my life. I began to understand the importance of mentorship, a support system, family and connection to culture can have on the lives of youth in all aspects of their life. I can tell you how clearly from memory the words of my mentor’s voice encouraging me to pursue my dreams: “Chris, you are going to be amazing social worker one day, you have so much to offer”. You might say I feel destined to become a social worker to be there for others the same way my mentor has been there for me.
People ask us “what makes a good mentor” and we tell them that all youth want to know someone cares for them and that they are present in the moment through natural curiosity and asking questions. It is the little moments of life that can make the most impact in the lives of youth in care (being there to talk to, encouraging them to follow their dreams, staying with them at the hospital, or bringing a pot of soup when they’re sick). Mentorship to me is the sum of those small moments experienced together to make significant and long-lasting memories in the lives of the youth. YIC has given me the courage to follow my dream of going to Grant MacEwan University to complete a social work diploma and a Bachelor of Child & Youth Care. I am currently enrolled at the University of Northern British Columbia to complete a second bachelor degree and then look forward to obtaining a Masters of Social Work degree.
*Note: The individuals pictured here are not related the story.