2023 Annual Report
Taylor, an 18-year-old, tech-talented youth from Maple Ridge, is no stranger to hardship and pain. She’s had challenges with identity and acceptance, spent her life juggling two households, and barely graduated high school. Her mental health was constantly eroded by depression and school stress, while unknowingly battling the effects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “High school slowly got harder every year,” Taylor said, sharing her situation made it difficult to complete school.
Sandra Reilly, a trained counsellor and gifted empathetic Youth Unlimited outreach worker, has been working in the Maple Ridge schools since 2016. That’s where she met Taylor. “She was so stressed out,” says Sandra. “She had little support and a ton of pressure from her parents for post-secondary education.”
Taylor’s visible challenges only scratched the surface. Underneath, Taylor was experiencing a painful reality.
|ongoing, complicated relationship with her parents. She came out as trans and pansexual at age 14. “I was all over the place, I was a mess. I was so obsessed with everyone else’s opinion. My friend group sucked, everyone was toxic. I was the embodiment of great depression.” Taylor was on suicide watch for six months, while trying to stay afloat in a self-motivated school.
A significant amount of Sandra’s work takes place at Taylor’s school. There she helps in woodshop, metalwork, and technology classes, but also keeps herself available in the hallways, as a safe presence and
YU’s Sandra Reilly with Taylor
|connection point for students who need her. Sandra was present in Taylor’s Tech Lab work blocks for years, but it wasn’t until grade 11 that a mentoring friendship blossomed.
“Sandy found out quickly I wasn’t doing well in school because I spent all my time in the Tech Lab,” says Taylor. “I was building things. I fixed a broken 3D printer; I built a polygraph and built all this random stuff. It was so cool and challenging, but none of it was academic. I was excelling in all my tech classes, but struggling in my academic ones.” These academic classes were critical for post-secondary education. And Sandy noticed.
Sandra regularly hosts homework clubs to support students in their assignments. Early on in their friendship, Sandra realized how desperate Taylor’s situation was and that the need for support was immediate. “I told Taylor: ‘I’m going to see you walk across that stage’,” says Sandra, “‘You’re not doing this alone.’ For a long time, she couldn’t understand why I cared.”
Rising to the challenge, Taylor fought hard for her grades and in 2019 she successfully reached her goal “I don’t think I would have graduated if Sandy hadn’t been there to help,” she says, recalling
the long days of studying. However, it was more than just about academics; Sandra was always available for Taylor whenever she needed to talk about the journey of depression. “She’s someone I can rant to and emotionally dump on. Sandra is one of two of my only friends right now.”
Against all odds and thanks to her hard work and natural technology talent, Taylor is now pursuing mechanical engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Though the challenges of depression persist, she is thrilled to have reached this stage of life. “I didn’t think I would be alive today, and I certainly didn’t think I would be at post-secondary school,” Taylor says with pride in her eyes.
Sandra and volunteer with youth during her work in the schools (pre-COVID)
I had been meeting with a depressed 15-year-old youth for months at the same café, sipping on the same drinks (hot chocolate and whip cream) with the same one-word responses to my questions. But this meeting was different. About 30 min into another one-sided conversation I could see a puzzled look growing on Kevin’s face. Eventually the question Kevin had been pondering for some time finally came out: “Why do you care?” Once I got over the shock of being asked a question, I whispered a “help me God” prayer, and a picture of Kevin behind bars appeared before my eyes. I blurted out, “I care because I want you to be free.”
“Why do you care?”
At Youth Unlimited, we hear this honest and telling question a lot. The question reveals much about a diminished sense of value and self-worth. The desire to be loved and cared for is there, but many vulnerable youth feel unworthy and confused by unconditional love. Our YU staff (like Sandra who is featured in this month’s Connections) are incredibly patient in their mentor relationships and their love for young people is full of hope. It’s the kind of hope that believes our youth can be free from crippling anxiety and depression, addiction and abuse, self-hatred and self-harm, isolation and loneliness. This is what love does.
Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
We are as committed as ever to loving youth in this way. It is a bumpy ride and not for the faint of heart, but there is no place we would rather be than walking alongside vulnerable youth. As we walk alongside youth we are ever mindful of how you have made it possible to be present in their lives. Thank you for giving so generously through your prayers and finances.
I ask you to ponder this same question: Why do you care?
With love and gratitude,
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