For those who don’t know, I try to volunteer for the Edmonton’s Youth Empowerment Support Services (YESS) as much as I can. When I do, I try to write about my experiences.
Back in October 2014, I volunteered at a fundraising event for YESS at Edmonton’s City Hall and wrote about this amazing experience. I hope you enjoy the aMAZEing Fundraiser article!
Going back even further in March 2014, I had the honor of participating in YESS’ The Backpack Project. Here is the article:
The Backpack Project.
What would I do? Most of the time, I wasn’t sure. My options were limited, you see. For 7 hours every half an hour on Friday March 7th, I took part in the Youth Empowerment Support Services’ (YESS) the Backpack Project. This unique online interaction tool took me into the world of a youth who faces a daily dose of harsh realities and sadly, is homeless. The name of the project, the Backpack Project, is derived from the reality that many disadvantaged youths carry their life belongings only in their backpack.
I chose Brian as my YESS youth identity, and for this project, I jumped into his life for a day. Let me introduce you to Brian. Brian may be a virtual avatar in the Backpack Project, but his circumstances can be very real. He has had to deal with a bad deck of cards since he was little. This includes a prostitute mother and a very absent father. Getting kicked out by his grandmother at age 10 didn’t help either, but alcohol and drugs helped ease Brian’s pain. His tent in the ravine, drugs, alcohol and his girlfriend are his world. But I don’t know how long his girlfriend will stick around if he doesn’t stop beating her up. Brian’s grandmother won’t take him back until he’s clean, but he’s in constant denial that he’s an addict.
On that Friday, I made some tough choices for Brian in the Backpack Project. I caught myself hoping to be presented with more options for him, but then it struck me that there are many youths like Brian who have limited, or no, options at all. Some decisions were easier to make than others. Some were the lesser of two evils. Some put me between a rock and a hard place.
YESS had a wrap up party for the project the next day at the historic Armoury Resource Centre. I had a great tour of the facility and was educated on the many life-changing programs offered by YESS. And I also got a letter telling me how Brian is doing. This was what I was waiting for since I finished the project. My heart sank as I read this letter. Brian writes that his life is still the same, but adds that his grandmother has called YESS to check to see if is still around. Knowing that someone still cared about him wasn’t enough to turn his life around.
What struck me the most was the last sentence in his letter. He said, “If I could, I would have chosen a good life”.
If I could, I would have told him that he still has a chance to turn things around for himself. If I could, I would have told him that he cannot blame himself anymore. If I could. I would tell him he is not a product of his family nor his past, and that things will get better. I know so and I promise so, because I’ve been there. But sometimes it’s easier said than done.
On my way home from the wrap up party, I noticed that I was feeling quite down. I didn’t realize how much the Backpack Project moved me… how emotionally invested I was for Brian. I didn’t even want to leave my desk during my lunch hour because I knew I would miss the opportunity to make a better decision for him. I wanted him to get clean, go back home to his grandmother and build himself a better life. I had so many hopes for Brian.
While I only had to endure 7 hours of Brian’s life in the comfort of a warm office in front of a computer, the Backpack Project was Brian’s reality, minute by minute, day after day, month after month and year after year. What started out as another great opportunity for me to volunteer for YESS, still ended as a great experience. But with a heavier heart for me and a deeper appreciation for all of the Brians out there who don’t even have the option to ask: What would I do? and only have the clothes on their back and a tent in the ravine.