When Nico first darkened the doors of the Jesters Theatre program, he had one declaration. “I will never perform onstage,” he said matter-of-factly. For Nico, who was happy helping behind the curtain, the anxiety of being in front of people felt far too great to even consider defeating.

          Nestled in the picturesque mountains of Mission, BC is a place that will challenge even the staunchest fears and insecurities. It’s a place where personality can be safely nurtured, couched in belonging and a feeling of family. Jesters Theatre is Youth Unlimited’s specialized theatre and dance program. There, Youth Unlimited staff and volunteers are committed to developing confident, healthy leaders by creating avenues of leadership training and performance—leaders just like Nico.

Nico’s leadership wasn’t always obvious to everyone. His anxiety originated early. Born into a family with many challenges, Nico’s first few years of life were difficult. Fortunately, the trajectory of his life was forever changed when, at three years old, Nico was adopted into the Balenzano family.

          Unfortunately, early childhood stress had a severe impact on Nico. He developed separation anxiety and any public attention brought him great anxiety. For the first six years of school, Nico suffered quietly, desperate to keep his deep anxiety hidden. “I tried to just deal with it on my own,” he says, “But it didn’t really work.”

As Nico got more involved with Jesters, he found his initial resolve to never perform, softening. He soon did find himself on stage, and while he was there, something curious happened. Nico says that when he performed, he noticed he experienced freedom from constant anxiety. He described performing as feeling like “a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and I could just speak my mind.”
Today, Jesters is like a second home for Nico. Sharon Wiebe, Jesters Artistic Director, describes the funny and vivacious 16-year-old as brimming with energy, full of responsibility, and ready

to rise to a challenge. When she recently asked him what his favourite thing is, he said, “When all eyes are on me!” Nico’s most recent role was undoubtedly the center of attention as he played High King Peter in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Seventeen-year-old Teah also found a home at Jesters. A sweet, kind-hearted teen, Teah has overcome many hurdles to be the young woman she is today. She gives a lot of credit to Jesters and the YU staff there for her transformation.
Growing up in a big family, Teah had a tight-knit support system. However, she discovered that though she loved people, in school she struggled to connect with others. As she got older, this challenge fed lies about her own worth and capabilities.

In the midst of her inner turmoil, Teah invested herself in Jesters Theatre. She learned and grew as she watched the leadership example set by the older kids. “Seeing the way the older girls loved people made me want to be like that,” she explains. “They helped shape my heart.” As she grew into the leadership roles she once looked up to, she discovered a gift of caring for people.
Sharon attests to Teah’s aptitude. “Through her vulnerability, she is a catalyst for inspiring confidence in others.”

Today’s Teah is drastically different from the one who entered the Youth Unlimited program eight years ago. More confident in her leadership abilities, and far more extraverted, Teah has been given hope and solid training.

“I don’t think I would be the person I am today without Jesters,” she says, “and I like me!”

At Jesters, youth like Nico and Teah have a place to be themselves without judgment or scrutiny. Through the intentional relationship and leadership development of YU staff like Sharon, youth have bloomed and stepped into the person God created them to be. Anxiousness and self-hatred are melting away, and hope, confidence and love for others is blossoming.
When Nico and Teah speak of the future, they look forward to sharing the help and encouragement they received. The Jesters team has created a continuing legacy of kindness and acceptance — all while putting on a great show!


At the end of January, Youth Unlimited emailed their charitable receipts so be sure to check your email and spam folders to obtain your receipt records.
Questions? Contact us at (604) 590-3759 or info@youthunlimited.com.




After years of success running multiple robust weekly art programs in and around the Downtown Eastside, Creative Life Vancouver, Youth Unlimited’s art program, is moving into an 800-square foot creative home within Beaumont Studios. Finally in a permanent place to call home, the Creative Life youth will be surrounded by many other creative entrepreneurs and mentors. The plan is to expand employment and education opportunities and provide greater art accessibility to a diverse group of youth on the margins.

The new space requires $40,000 of new funding. To learn more and contribute visit:


Youth Unlimited’s Elevation Experience program is sending a team to Rwanda this February, ahead of the youth trip this summer. Staff and friends of YU will travel from February 19-28 to support the work and strength the YFC Rwanda partnership. Through the partnership and a cross-cultural relationship, Rwandan students are sponsored to attend school, and Canadian youth develop leadership abilities and confidence. Please pray for safe travels for the team!

For youth interested in joining the Elevation Experience, visit: www.youthunlimited.com/elevation-experience










Who am I?

It wasn’t till I was 19 years old that I really began to wrestle with this question. I was a fairly carefree kid up until then, just riding the wave of my parents love, support and guidance. At 19, I left home for seven months to study and travel in Australia. Leaving home was the push I needed to begin to look at who I was apart from my folks. I grew up in a home where God was very central, so a big part of my understanding of who I was came from my understanding of God.

While in Australia, the concept of our True and False Self began to emerge. Ever since, I have been discovering more and more clearly, who I am. I recently came across this poem by William Stafford.

There is a thread you follow. It goes among
Things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

My words for the thread in the poem is the True Self. My True Self is who I am, and always have been, created in the image and likeness of God who is love (1 John 4:8, 16). I am able to discover my True Self as I experience the amazing love of God through my relationship with Jesus.

At Youth Unlimited, our hope for the young people we connect with is that they would discover who they are and always have been, created in the image and likeness of God. In this edition of Connections, you will read two stories of youth for whom this is beginning to happen. It’s happening before our eyes and we wanted you to catch a glimpse of it as well. After all, you play a key role in making this all possible… as one of the youth says, “They helped shape my heart.”

With deep gratitude,


Mark Koop
Executive Director