2023 Annual Report
When 13-year old Aidan met Youth Unlimited’s James Parlee, his world was full of turbulence. “I had a pretty rough family life,” says Aidan. “I had conflict with both parents and lived life half at my mom’s and half at my dad’s.” School was difficult. “I had a lot of emotional issues and had trouble keeping myself in check,” he continued. “In middle school, I would pick fights and got suspended multiple times. I had such a messy locker that I wasn’t allowed to have one anymore.” High school wasn’t any easier. “I wasn’t great at connecting with people; I was closed off,” he says. “It was a really challenging time for me.”
In grade nine, Aidan joined a specialized program for students struggling with regular class structure. There, he met his YU youth worker. James was someone Aidan could relate to and feel at ease with. The two connected over their shared “nerdoms,” spending many hours talking about gaming, cartoons and nerd media.
Thanks to funding from generous partners like you, James, like all YU outreach staff, are available for youth like Aidan, to come alongside them, as they navigate a tougher hand they’ve been dealt in life. As part of the mentoring relationship, these youth workers make opportunities available to youth that offer growth, healing and transformation. Summer camp is one of those opportunities.
Campers enjoying summer camp at Anvil Island.
Aidan (L) and James (R) at Aidan’s highschool graduation.
James invited Aidan to camp, knowing the support, stability, and ecological environment offered would be deeply transformational—as well as super fun.
Aidan’s experience exceeded his hopes. “It was one of the most fun times of my life,” he says. “We played pranks, had a huge dry paint fight and even had a sneakout night where I fell asleep on the beach listening to whales. At camp, I could forget about everything and just have fun.”
Aidan agrees. “Before camp, I wasn’t good at meeting new people, but there I learned how to do it. It made me grow.”
“Summer camp is such a powerful place,” says James. “There is a surprising amount of bonding and development that can happen in such a concentrated timeframe. Then to build on that growth back home, for many youth, it’s quite remarkable.”
“I still feel the confidence in myself that I got from camp, and it’s helping me live my life to the fullest. I know more about what’s good for me, and I owe so much of that to camp.” Aidan says he’s also gained the courage to trust his judgment and make healthy decisions, even when it’s hard. He has since gone to college, and graduated with a paralegal designation.
Today, over 10 years since their first introduction, Aidan and James don’t see each other as often. “My door is always open,” says James, “but now, he doesn’t need me as much — and that’s exactly how it should be. He’s got many of the tools he needed and he knows, no matter what, I’m always in his corner. I’m really proud of him.”
Our deepest condolences to Mark, and the entire Koop family, as they grieve the passing of Mark’s mom.
When I attended Timberline Ranch summer camp, the counsellors might as well have been rockstars.
I was in awe of them, especially mine. Never had someone of Bianca’s caliber, my first camp counsellor, paid attention to my 11-year old self. She seemed genuinely interested in me. From caring staff to the whole camp opportunity, the experiences shaped my future.
It’s not surprising that five years later, I was delighted to become a camp counsellor.
My third summer however, I was not prepared for my most challenging group of girls. Three teens came together, all with a similar vibe — sullen, guarded, mildly engaged… and very cool. While not overtly unkind, they employed the subtle mocking approach. Bids for connections were deflected. They terrified me.
Before long, I found myself in tears in my camp director’s office. I felt like a failure. I was unsteady, unable to help these girls enjoy camp, and completely out of my depth. To my surprise, the director did not see failure.
She saw three vulnerable youth, who played it cool, but she believed they longed to connect. They likely had many scars and fortified walls — things that wouldn’t change overnight.
She assured me that while I may not see outward change, kindness, respect and invitation make a world of difference. I decided to trust that God was working, despite my insecurities and lack of impact — or so I thought.
After the campfire Thursday night, we had a special sharing night. My jaw dropped when the girl I feared most took the initiative to share. We learned that, at age 16, she was mom to a little boy and was struggling with the impact. All three opened up and offered gratitude for the love and patience they’d received. We were a sobbing, hugging mess. The next day, I barely recognized these softer, lighter girls who laughed with joy, instead of mockery. I tear up even now thinking about them.
This Connections issue is Aidan’s camp story of consistent love and transformation. We see the ripple effects of long-term mentorship received from James, his Youth Unlimited mentor and camp counsellor. James, along with all our staff, endeavor to emulate how Jesus treated others:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”” — Ephesians 4:2
While camp is an extraordinary accelerator of transformation, without your support, none of this would be possible. Thank you for helping us be a part of life-changing opportunities with unending ripple effects.
With deep gratitude,
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