“Be kind, for everyone you meet is
fighting a battle you know nothing about”

           That reminder is nestled at the bottom of every one of Eric Ens’ emails and is the embodiment of how he lives.
           A Volleyball BC Hall of Famer, a former Youth Unlimited Executive Director, an outstanding coach and youth worker, Eric has been supported by YU partners to directly impact the lives of thousands of youth in his 33 (and counting) years of service.

It was 1987. It was the year of mullets, Air Jordan’s, and oversized blazers. It was also the year 26-year-old Eric Ens took a leap of faith and began work at Youth Unlimited (then YFC).
           He started coaching volleyball and basketball at a junior high school in Richmond and met Brandon, a strong grade-nine football player, who “thought he was pretty cool,” chuckles Eric. Beneath the cool exterior was a young man struggling to come to terms with some big challenges, including a mother with mental issues and the pain of an absent father.



“He was such a smart guy, I saw so much potential in him,” says Eric about Brandon, “but he was making some bad decisions, and starting down a slippery slope.”
           Eric’s genuine care and brilliant sense of humor made many kids feel safe enough to tease him—and Brandon especially loved it. One day, Brandon was mocking Eric about the next program he would run, so Eric hollered back, “if you want to learn more about it, we’ll do it at your house.” Brandon laughed at the ridiculous thought and said “ya sure.”

           “I called his bluff,” said Eric. The next thing Brandon knew, his address was being blared over the school’s PA system, and 90 kids showed up at his tiny townhouse that night. The rest was history. Brandon accepted his surprise hosting role and soon became a young leader, as Eric encouraged and mentored him.

“Eric gave of himself as I had never seen before,” says Brandon. “He cared about everyone and looked out for all of us no matter what stupid things we were doing. He worked tirelessly to save us from ourselves. He was the closest thing I ever had to a father figure. He showed me how to have love and compassion for myself and others. Eric listened to me when no one else would. Eric believed in me when few others did (including myself). He celebrated me and gave me a sense of self-worth. Eric told me that he loved me, which I remember was uncomfortable as a teenager, as no male had ever said that to me. Eric prayed for me a lot, he encouraged me to allow Christ in through prayer.”

           There are quite literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of Eric’s youth who have different versions of this same mentorship story.
           “Eric has been an example to youth workers across the country,”

says Andy Harrington, who served as his boss for 13 years. “A lot people looked to him for the style of work he was doing. His understanding of holistic, integrative youth was way ahead of the times. Eric taught me more about youth work than almost anyone else in the last 30 years.”


Eric wasn’t just gifted in spending time helping kids, he also pulled together programs and partnerships that had province-wide impact. This included establishing Air Attack, the first volleyball club in BC, created with a purposeful “no-cut” policy which wasn’t possible on school sports teams, inevitably leaving kids out. The program was so popular that thanks to help from local hero Rick Hansen, whose daughters all went through the program, it became its own non-profit. Today it’s the largest volleyball club in BC.


Eric has officiated weddings, baptized youth and been like a pastor to kids. He also spearheaded the creation of a provincial championship for junior high volleyball players.

It’s hard to quantify the impact of prevention, but it’s likely no coincidence that so many of Eric’s former youth are flourishing today. In 2014, Eric had a surprise encounter. A routine visit to meet the principal of a new

school he’d be coaching at had both Eric and the principal in jaw-dropping delight. Brian, the principal, was one of the youth from Eric’s first cohort. The happy reunion led Brian to join Eric as a basketball coach at the school; roles they both continue to this day.
           “I have known Eric for over 40 years,” says Brian. “He coached my brother and I in our youth and has been an example of what we should be—honest, genuine, humble, caring, loyal and kind. Now that I coach with him, again I see the positive impact he has on so many people, including myself.  I am extremely fortunate to have him as a friend and mentor.”
           And what became of Brandon? Now one of Vancouver’s finest, Brandon is a senior constable with the Vancouver Police Department, and is involved with inner city kids in a variety of programs. One program is ‘Yo Bro/Yo Girl’, a youth initiative with a former Hells Angel which engages at-risk local youth.
           “I love this remarkable man and all that he has taught me,” says Brandon. “I owe him a lifetime debt of gratitude and try to honor him by giving back to my communities. I thank God for putting Eric in my life when I needed him most and staying connected in friendship all these years.”


On November 7, 2019, join Youth Unlimited sleeping outside in solidarity to fight and prevent youth homelessness. YU is proud to once again partner with the Joseph Richardson Group (JRG) restaurants who is hosting One Night Outside (formerly SleepOut) where the community is invited to spend one night sleeping outside so vulnerable youth don’t have to. Funds raised help homeless youth get off the streets and prevent others from ever ending up there.




Youth Unlimited sends a huge thank you to First West Foundation [Envision Foundation] for generously donating $10,000 towards Youth Unlimited’s hot breakfast programs, which provide both much needed nutrition and care and community. We also want to extend a huge thank you to Coast Capital for gifting nearly $6,000 towards life-skill enhancement activities and mentorship for youth in Richmond and East Vancouver.


Ride for Refuge is coming on Saturday, October 5, 2019. Bike 10, 25, or 50K or walk 5K for Youth Unlimited! Sign up to support a YU team and ride in either Richmond or Surrey.



We are so pleased to celebrate YU youth worker Toto Mak who has been awarded the U-ROC award for displaying dedication to helping youth in Richmond. Toto has been recognized as an Asset Champion who has gone out of her way to inspire, mentor and make a difference in the lives of youth.










After spending an afternoon in one of our mobile drop-in centers surrounded by 16-18 year olds, a YU staff sends a message to a group of prayer and financial partners:

On this dreary Tuesday, here is a reminder of some of the young people you are impacting:
One is depressed.
One has an alcoholic father.
One had an abusive father.
One was addicted to drugs.
One was suicidal.
One is anxious.
One is bullied.
One is giving up.
One is hiding away.
Three others, we’re just getting to know. Dark times and yet hope persists through Jesus.

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” – Romans 12:12

We look at every young person we meet through the eyes of hope, trusting that through relationship they will also experience hope in all of their challenges.

One of our core values is Relationships; the kind which are transformative for everyone involved, authentic in nature and long-term in duration. With intention and over time, a deep relational connection with young people is possible. This kind of relationship has the power to change their lives, break destructive cycles and promote healing. It is through relationships we share our stories and our lives with one another. We do this in a three-story way. We invite youth to share their life story, we share our story and we share God’s story (God’s love has transformed us so we open up about this part of our lives).

Interesting side note: Recent trauma studies on youth show that a community of adults who have healthy, long-term caring relationships with youth become part of a process of healing the trauma stored in their hearts and brains.

Long-term relationships are key to our success at YU. In this edition of Connections, you will get a look at one of our staff who has been committed to serving vulnerable youth for 33 years!

Thank you for making this long-term commitment possible.

With deep gratitude,
Mark Koop



Executive Director