On any given Monday or Tuesday, at the Youth Unlimited mobile drop-in centre in East Vancouver (Street Life), you will find a steady, caring and committed volunteer sharing life with the youth who come for a meal and stay for friendship. Some of these youth are street involved and care for their well-being is in short supply — but not at Street Life.
alongside someone who not too long ago was part of her own supportive community when she most needed it — YU’s Amanda Ratzlaff.
While Stephanie was growing up, her family embarked on numerous long distance moves across BC, but in eighth grade, they decided to call Abbotsford home. It was at her new middle school, in homework club, that Stephanie met someone who would play a large part in her story: YU outreach worker Natalie Dahl.
developed as Stephanie began attending twice a week. Unsurprisingly, the middle schooler found herself forming easy connections with the tight-knit YU community.
As Stephanie moved into high school, Natalie’s mentorship continued. One of her favorite memories of their friendship includes a trip to Northern BC to visit Stephanie’s hometown of Hazelton.
But this isn’t Disney, and not every story can be a fairy-tale. Stephanie’s seventeenth year proved to be a rough one. Her mom moved away and living with just her step dad started to become difficult.
Soon after moving into the Cyrus Centre, Stephanie was offered a band agreement, which would provide her with partial tuition and living expenses for an Aboriginal Studies education in Vancouver. She accepted it without hesitation.
|Amanda had also made the move to the big city to work with Street Life. Already having a solid friendship and appreciation for YU, Stephanie recently found herself volunteering at the mobile drop-in twice a week.
Stephanie explains she “want[s] to be that person for someone else. I don’t feel like I have to, I want to.”
Stephanie’s story is not complete, but transformation is in progress. From dealing with the difficulties of homelessness while completing high school, to starting college in a foreign city, Stephanie’s amazing story continues to keep Natalie and Amanda glued to the page. Or should we say, to her tattoos.
Thirty skateboard youth were gathered in a big circle, sitting on their boards chatting, laughing, eating snacks and goofing around. It was a typical Monday night Skate Club. I threw out a question as part of our TFTN (Thought for The Night). “How many of you watch at least one movie per week?” Every hand shot up. “How about 2 movies per week?” Not one hand dropped. “How about 3 movies a week?” A few hands were lowered. This went on till I reached 10 movies per week and one hand remained. Initially I was shocked, but then as I thought more about it, it made sense. Movies are stories and today’s youth can’t get enough of them.
Truth is, we all have an insatiable appetite for stories. It’s always been this way, we’ve just found new ways to tell them. Stories captivate and draw us in like nothing else, especially stories of transformation.
Neurologists have determined that when it comes to any form of communication our brains are either doing one of two things: trying to understand what is being communicated or conserving calories — also known as day dreaming. Maybe you started conserving calories while reading that last sentence? How often have you found yourself in a meeting, seminar, or in church service, listening to someone communicate something of value and yet your mind is wandering, but as soon as they begin sharing a personal story, BOOM; you are drawn back in. Consider this: a movie can captivate a 14-year-old skateboard kid’s attention for two hours. That’s the power of story!
We are all living a story, one filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, failures and triumphs. At Youth Unlimited we believe our story is also God’s story. We exist because a loving, intelligent, purposeful Creator breathed life into us. Our story starts there. We can freely choose to write our own story or invite the Creator to write it with us. In my 25 years with Youth Unlimited, I have been witness to countless stories of transformation where youth have embraced the love and grace of Jesus in the context of the loving communities we provide.
In this edition of Connections, you will catch a glimpse of how God is involved in writing Stephanie’s story and how our Youth Unlimited team has been written into the script.
“I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths, stories we heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother’s knee. We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation — God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done.” — Psalms 79
Grateful for your role in their story,
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