2023 Annual Report
After overcoming self-doubt, Cole became a blogger, role model and co-creator of an accidental bird-watching club
When Derek first met 13-year-old Cole, he recalls him being a troublemaker. Cole was easily influenced by friends to misbehave and became a distraction in the classroom. “I struggled with ADHD,” says Cole, “I was constantly hyper and found it impossible to focus. It got in the way of my performance at school.” In grade eight, he was placed into a special program for kids who needed extra attention.
Derek Dovale is a Youth Unlimited youth worker in Surrey. He was running a youth group at Living Hope when the two first bonded. Cole felt an instant connection to Derek. “He has taught me belonging,” Cole says. Cole and Derek have
maintained an impactful mentoring friendship for five years and counting.
Cole makes a feathered friend
Cole and Derek on one of their epic walks
Since their mentoring friendship began, Derek has made opportunities available to help develop Cole and build his self-confidence. Over the years, Cole has volunteered at Derek’s wife’s school, helping other kids with social and behavioral problems. He most recently started volunteering with the hamper project in Surrey on Wednesday nights. He accompanies Derek in packaging and delivering food and other necessities to families in need in the community. Cole has learned that by saying “yes!” to opportunities that present themselves and by pushing himself outside his comfort zone, he can see how much more he is truly capable of.
Like all YU staff, the two years of learning to cope with pandemic restrictions did force some new ideas to come to fruition. In the spring, another leader, Tyson, inspired Derek and Cole to embark on nature walks as a way to get out of the house during lockdown. As they explored the area around Green Timbers Park, sometimes with Tyson, they began to notice the wildlife, especially the birds. The trio were enamored and curious. They realized there were probably other youth who might appreciate this adventure opportunity. What started as a mentor meet-up, turned into occasional group birdwatching outings throughout the summer. It got coined at YU as “the accidental birdwatching club.”
Through that experience Derek could not have been more proud of Cole. Through that time, he inspired other youth to push themselves beyond their comfort and expectations for themselves. “I don’t think he realizes how much of a role model he really is,” he says.
During the pandemic, Cole also developed other outlets. He challenged himself to start a blog, fulfilling one of his long-term goals of sharing his story openly as a means to inspire others. The positive feedback he received from readers reaffirmed his abilities. “A lot of the people I’ve connected with through my blog, youth groups and volunteering, have opened up to me about their personal problems or issues,” says Cole. “I’ve realized that a lot of our struggles are the same. Everyone is not alone in this.”
Cole on his recent 18th birthday, showing off unique skills with his prosthetic
It was a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon as I rolled up to the Lonsdale skateboard park. My son Lucas started rolling around straight away and I plopped myself down beside an older skateboard dude who was taking a break. As I laced up my shoes in preparation to skate with my son, I noticed the guy beside me start to meticulously roll a series of joints. Minutes later, he offered to smoke them with me. I politely declined and then commented on his beautiful act of generosity. We got into a conversation about how the Creator designed us to be generous and how it’s in us to give. I vividly remember him nodding his head in agreement but also with a contemplative look on his face.
Many of us have a phrase or quote or sacred scripture to help guide our daily lives. I am drawn to the words of Jesus as quoted in the book of Matthew 5:13,14 (MSG):
“Let me tell you why you are here, you’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. “Here’s another way to put it, you’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world.”
Most of life’s biggest questions center around our life’s purpose. Jesus says we are here to bring out the God flavours and colours in our world. We are all made in the likeness and image of the Creator and so these God colours exist in us all.
At Youth Unlimited we love to help young people see the God colours within them and help draw them out so they too can discover their purpose. We don’t always get to see the impact of these interactions with youth; I have no idea what happened to my young pot smoking friend, but for young people like Cole (Connections feature story) the God flavours and colours are now on full display.
Thank you for making it possible for these transformative relationships to develop. Your generous financial and prayer support ensures that we will be here for another 75 years, helping young people discover their potential and purpose.
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