Youth Week Highlight: Former at-risk teen now an eastside Youth Worker giving back through Vancouver’s only mobile Youth Centre
Vancouver, BC—The cycle of mentorship and support for at-risk youth comes full circle in Jason Hradoway. Once a teenager heading down a dangerous path, Jason’s connection with Youth Unlimited led him to do a complete 180. Today, Jason works with East Vancouver’s most marginalized and struggling youth through the Youth Unlimited Street Life program.
Through Street Life, Jason and his small team run the only mobile youth center in Vancouver. This renovated 25-foot RV provides a safe place for youth where there a sense of belonging and home and a connection to caring adults. Practically, youth receive a hot meal, and, when available, clean clothes, blankets and toiletries.
“When I was in grade 10, I was in desperate need of mentorship,” says Hradoway, who first encountered Youth Unlimited in his hometown in Edmonton. “I had a poor relationship with my family, a lot of angst, and I started hanging out with a group of kids that were destructive. Inside, I was in conflict. I was drawn to the activism of the punk rock scene, which I think was a positive draw, but so much else was not. Even at that age, I knew that deep down I did actual want to help make the world a better place, but my life was not heading down that path, and I just didn’t believe anything better for myself.”
In that same year, through his music class, Jason met James, a Youth Unlimited youth worker who shared Jason’s passion for music, but who was also a stabilizing force.
“He could see that I desperately needed mentorship and someone to believe in me,” says Jason. “He was crazy enough see past the punk rock exterior to my heart. He didn’t try to change me. Instead he invited me to come help him serve other people in the inner city.”
Jason did, and when his punk rock friends started dropping out of school, he knew he was at cross-roads: did he stick with his friends, or follow the risky tug on his heart to build a different life? With Jason pouring into his life, the latter felt possible.
“In grade 12 I realized it only took one person in my life to radically change it for the better,” he says. “It wasn’t long before I realized I wanted to have an impact on struggling kids like James did for me.”
Jason came to Vancouver in 2010, trained at Lifeteams—Youth Unlimited’s year-long urban youth worker program—and worked in the Edmonton branch of Youth Unlimited before returning to East Vancouver in the fall of 2015 to help run Street Life.
Today, in a city where street-involved kids are transient, and the real estate is unbelievable, the mobile drop-in’s innovation has proven to be invaluable. The RV runs two nights a week outside Britannia Community Centre, and off Commercial Drive. During the week, dedicated staff meet regularly with youth to provide practical and emotional support, mentorship and referrals.
The program that runs on a shoestring budget is in desperate need of financial support. The lease for the RV is up in May (an extension from the April deadline), and the buy-out is $11,500. At the last week of April, the RV’s generator died, adding another $4,000 expense. The two staff and band of extremely dedicated volunteers who run the program are hoping the community will help support it through their GoFundMe campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/yustreetlife; the first $5,000 donated will be generously matched by Fraserway RV in Abbotsford. For more: www.youthunlimited.com
Posted on May 2, 2016