Fifteen-year-old Olivia rolls her eyes. “But it’s so good now, they’re just going to change it” she says, referring to the grade eights entering the youth group where Youth Unlimited’s Sandra Reilly works. Reading Olivia’s face and recalling her backstory, Sandra suspects it will take a significant perspective shift before the incoming girls will ever feel welcome by Olivia.
When she was in grade eight, Olivia experienced the pain of social exclusion. As a young, incoming grade eight, Olivia was on the fringes, hoping to befriend the older girls. Despite her efforts, she was met with rejection. Sandra was a confidant and support to Olivia during that time, but without a sense of belonging, Olivia dropped out. And it took a year for her to come back.
Olivia’s experience is a relatively common one in group dynamics with teenagers. While she wasn’t bullied or attacked, social exclusion at that age can have long-lasting impacts that affect how these teens will then treat others.
Youth Unlimited staff often work with teens who have been severely bullied or bully others. Most of those stories are too painful to share publicly. One fact is clear, however: how teens treat each other has changed significantly in the past few decades. Once a playground phenomenon, where bullies themselves were often excluded, bullying has escalated in danger, methods and prevalence. It often leads to deep emotional damage and can be a precursor to suicide.
Bullying is both physically and mentally destructive, and often becomes cyclical, where the abused eventually abuses others.
“Toxicity breeds toxicity,” says Sandra, who works extensively in the Maple Ridge School District, with local churches and is a registered counsellor. “If that’s all you know, then that’s how you’ll live your life. But if someone shows you another way, you can change.”
Toronto-based Youth Unlimited youth worker and author Tim Huff developed the Compassion Series as a way of modeling compassion to children and youth. Tim emphasizes that we can’t settle with teaching kids to say “no” to bullying. We also need to teach them to say “yes” to compassion.
“While ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ are stereotypical anti-bullying notions,” Tim writes, “‘kindness’ and ‘welcome’ are hallmarks of a still-better pro-compassionate response.”
Moving beyond just an anti-bullying stance offers youth tools that can have a transformational impact. With that in mind, Tim created a dynamic curriculum for schools and families which teach empathy and offer understanding of marginalized people groups. It introduces youth to challenging themes such as homelessness, disabilities and the history of the indigenous peoples of Canada.
The latest book in the Compassion Series, The Honour Drum: Sharing First Nations Truths with Children (co-written with acclaimed First Nations teacher Cheryl Bear), launches in Vancouver on Saturday, April 8.
Across the nation, Youth Unlimited has worked hard for decades to teach this transformative compassion to youth both inside and outside of the margins. And YU’s Sandra Reilly is no different.
When she noticed Olivia’s reaction to the new kids, Sandra pulled her aside and offered her a different way of seeing her role in the group.
“You can be that exclusive clique,” she told Olivia, “and do what was done to you. Or you can be a warm and welcoming presence. What would you have wanted?”
Olivia had returned to the group a year prior and to her delight the dynamics had shifted. She had friends, a sense of belonging and had developed ownership over the group. Now a confident Grade 10, Olivia mulled over Sandra’s words.
“Compassion,” Sandra explains, “starts with empathy; with picturing yourself walking in their shoes. If I were in their shoes, what would I need? Compassion is acting on that need.”
The seed of compassion took root in Olivia’s heart and resulted in an attitude shift. Olivia started greeting everyone who walked through the doors, introducing the newcomers to her friends, showing them the way to the bathroom. Soon she committed to spending two minutes connecting with everyone who showed up for youth group. Olivia grew to be known as the glue of the youth group, the friend of all, and the girl who made everyone feel at home. Her choice made such an impact it broke off the seeds of social exclusion.
Youth can break cycles of oppression. But most need to know more than what not to do, they need an alternative vantage point. Thank you for empowering youth workers like Sandra who walk them through this every day.
Hockey Fever! Giants Partner with Youth Unlimted
Support YU simply by watching hockey! Come watch the Vancouver Giants take on the Kamloops Blazers or sponsor an at-risk youth to attend. Seven dollars from every YU ticket sold goes to support YU programs. Tickets are discounted to $20. Be a Giant hero and sponsor youth to attend. Each $20 send one youth. Take the 10 for 200 challenge and sponsor 9 youth + 1 mentor for $200. It doesn’t get any more Canadian than this.
Date: Friday, February 17, 2017
Location: Langley Events Centre
Tickets and info: www.youthunlimited.com/giants
Award-Winning YU Authour Launches New Book in Vancouver
Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited is delighted to announce that we are hosting the West Coast book launch of The Honour Drum: Sharing First Nations Truths with Children. Written by renowned Toronto author and YU outreach worker Tim Huff and acclaimed First Nations teacher and songwriter Cheryl Bear, The Honour Drum is the third book in the Compassion Series.
These children’s books are created to spark conversation with children, families and classrooms about the beauty of Canada’s Indigenous people. Huff is also the author and illustrator of the award-winning best-selling children’s book The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge: Helping Children Understand Homelessness.
Book Launch: Saturday, April 8, 2017 in Vancouver.
Books can be purchased at
Twenty Sixteen was a very difficult year for my family and I. We almost lost my father due to heart failure, my wife was hospitalized from a bad fall while trail running and my son was severely bullied at school. The last two events happened within days of each other.
In the last few years a lot of attention has been given to the issue of bullying. We have now experienced firsthand, the devastating effects of this kind of aggressive behaviour. Awareness must be raised and we must stand united, shoulder to shoulder against bullying. It’s a big deal and the damage is real.
February 22 is Pink Shirt Day, a movement that began when David Shepherd, Travis Price and their teenage friends organized a high-school protest to wear pink in sympathy with a grade nine boy who was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. David and Travis took a stand against bullying when they protested against the harassment by distributing pink T-shirts to all the boys in their school.
Anti-bullying, erase bullying, stop bullying and stand up to bullying, are all good calls to action, but actually fall way short. So often we hear the drumbeat for all the things we need to stand against, but when do we hear the drumbeat for what we should stand for? We desperately need a voice that calls us to a different kind of action, a voice that calls us to a different way of living.
I love this verse in Colossians 3:12, a clear call for how to live.
“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.”
COMPASSION. We must learn to live compassionate lives and teach young people to do the same. It takes guts to stand up to a bully, but there’s a deeper strength required to engage with others in a compassionate way. We can wear pink shirts and hand out buttons, but if we don’t teach kids how to live we will never see change happen in this area. What is the colour of compassion? In this Connections issue you will hear from Sandra Reilly, a staff member committed to wearing the garment of compassion. Will you join us in living this way? It’s the only way we will bring about lasting change.