Often when I talk about injustice, I think about it as an international problem. And injustice is rampant internationally, but it’s a very local issue as well. My work for a locally focused community youth work organization – Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited – reminds me of this in beautiful ways. At Youth Unlimited, our mandate flows out of the mission of Jesus. We relationally engage in holistic work with vulnerable youth in partnership with the Church and the community. In other words, we work with some pretty rough around the edges youth, journeying with them towards God’s healing love.
I often tell people that in my role I get to work with the cream of the crop — the leadership-minded youth of Youth Unlimited. However, many people looking out at the faces at one of my program’s meetings may not recognize just how amazing these youth are. Instead, they may be distracted by the blue hair… Or the multiple piercings… Or the green lipstick… Or the sarcastic remarks…
But those who look a little closer, take the time to learn more, find that these kids really are some of the most incredible youth you might ever come across. Youth like Janice.*
Janice is 18 and lives in basement suite in Surrey with her family. She is connected to Youth Unlimited through another youth worker at her alternative school. Janice’s family struggles economically. They have no landline phone and instead share one cell phone as a family. Despite this, they are supportive of each other and Janice has been very pro-active in getting people to come alongside her to support her in her leadership journey.
Janice is working so hard. After a year of poor attendance, in 2017 she has balanced her final year of school (with a near perfect attendance rate) and the challenges of our program. She has also continued her faithful volunteering at another youth organization, working with smaller children and growing in leadership there. And she consistently rides the bus across town to come early to our meetings to help set-up and prepare.
It has been really great to see her build a group of supportive people around her and I know that it will have impact beyond her time with us. What is difficult is knowing that Janice, like many of the vulnerable youth that Youth Unlimited works with, has such a huge capacity for compassion, but in the past, has frequently been pigeon-holed into the role of the “helped” rather than being encouraged to see what she has to offer others. This has perpetuated cycles of vulnerability and poverty in her and other’s lives. And that is injustice, too.
If we truly want to live lives of justice, we must commit to seeing the value and potential in every person – not just those who are clean-cut or come from the good part of town. We have to fight against stereotypes, even those in our own minds, that tell us that people fall into two categories – those who give help and those who receive help – both internationally and down the street. And we have to commit to seeing past skin colour, cultural background, piercings, tattoos, and even potty-mouthed sarcastic remarks! If we don’t, we might miss out on the beauty, transformation, and justice that someone like Janice brings to the world.
For more information on Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited or the program mentioned in this blog, check out: youthunlimited.com and elevationproject.ca
* Name has been changed