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.
           It’s there you’ll find Stephanie Robinson (not photographed), whose kindness and commitment are sparked by her own story, working

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.
           “My first impression of Stephanie was that she was reserved — but not shy,” remembers Natalie. She invited the new middle schooler to YU’s drop in centre, C-21. Their mentoring friendship quickly developed as Stephanie began attending twice a week. Unsurprisingly,




the middle schooler found herself forming easy connections with the tight-knit YU community.
           “It was a very welcoming place,” says Stephanie. “I knew I could go there and be comfortable.”

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.
           “We stopped in and met some of her family,” says Natalie. “Seeing places that were dear to Stephanie’s heart that I have only been told about meant so much to me.”
           That’s what made their friendship so connective: Natalie and Stephanie were simply doing life together. “It was a slow building of a consistent relationship that has no expectations or pressures on it,” says Natalie.

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.
           “I had a realization that a lot of people eventually come to,” says Stephanie. “Your parents are people too and they can make weird choices. I was fortunate that Natalie was there for me and that was enough for me. With all the displacement in my life, she stood by my side.”
           When home was no longer a safe place, Stephanie moved into the Cyrus Centre for a month of stability. At the youth centre she found an environment where she could trust her community and build friendships. One Cyrus Centre volunteer in particular became especially significant, Amanda Ratzlaff. Amanda soon became a YU staff member and joined Stephanie in a new chapter of her story.

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.
           It was a new chapter but thankfully, she wouldn’t be taking the ride alone. 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.
           “I have seen Steph demonstrate wisdom and maturity in responding to difficult people and situations,” says Natalie. “These are characteristics that have been there the whole time and it’s been the grace of God and supportive people and programs that have created space for healing and growth to occur. I’m excited to see where the next few years take her and what other kinds of tattoos she will get!”
           Thirty-five and counting, Stephanie’s story is still being written.


On Saturday October 5, 2019, ride 10, 25 or 50km, or walk 5km to raise money for Youth Unlimited’s work with at-risk and vulnerable youth across Greater Vancouver. You can join a YU team or make one of your own! Choose to ride in either Langley or Vancouver. Fundraise $150 or more (or $75 if you’re under 18) and your registration is waived. We had such a blast last year, can’t wait to have you join us!





Five youth part of Youth Unlimited mentoring on the North Shore won awards at the City of North Vancouver’s 2019 Youth Awards. Four young CityFEST directors won for Outstanding Squad: Ivan and Neil pictured here, with Youth Unlimited area director Andrew Chong in the middle. Elliott won the Rise Up Award, pictured here with Youth Unlimited outreach worker Allie Parry on the right.



Street Life is a safe place for youth struggling with, or at higher risk of, homelessness, poverty, gang recruitment, sex trade vulnerabilities and addiction. A drop-in centre on wheels, this long trusted program has been helping youth change the direction of their life for nearly a decade, but it happens one meal, one game and one conversation at a time. We desperately need volunteers to run on Friday nights. The role requires a one-year commitment and volunteers must be 21 years or older. Email Leia to find out more: leianewland@youthunlimited.com











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,

Mark Koop




Executive Director