Youth Feature - Jack
Talented musician and MC extraordinaire, Jack’s has been sharing his gifts and honing his skills through UNYA’s Overly Creative Minds (OCM) Program for two years. Originally, he connected with UNYA to do a job search, but once he found the music program, he was hooked! Since then, he has not only used opportunities to continue to grow, but he has warmly supported his peers who are on a similar path.
Learning about and practicing a variety of art mediums has helped Jack master new skills in photography, beading, carving, and recording. But his contributions extend beyond his artistic abilities. “Jack has been a leader since he walked through the door,” says Marie, OCM’s Program Coordinator. Having seen Jack MC UNYA’s annual winter social event and speak at the organization’s 25th Anniversary celebration, I’ve observed how he performs with confidence, creativity, and humour.
He easily steps into the spotlight, which opens doors and inspires other youth to step into that same light. One of the amazing qualities about Jack is how he brings people along with him and empowers them on their journeys by sharing and helping to create the warm welcoming environment he has experienced. You couldn’t find a better ambassador for UNYA. Jack has commuted via transit from Surrey daily and actively recruited talented musicians and artists to come to programming. Helping organize youths’ performances at the Talking Stick Festival, being a big part of a series of eight podcasts recorded by youth, and recording songs at OCM that he has written himself are among Jack’s other claims to fame.
However, I wouldn’t have discovered any of this by interviewing Jack alone. Because of his incredible humility, he spoke to me about his appreciation for UNYA, rather than his own individual accomplishments. He told me, “There are so many opportunities that help you build your self confidence, regardless of who you are or what you’re good at.” He would like youth to know that staff are there to support them with whatever they need, and when they attend programming they will be surrounded by good people. At UNYA’s 25th Anniversary, he warmly called out to individual staff members by name and described to the audience how each had impacted his life. But the relationship is reciprocal: when youth like Jack come into programming with intention, passion, and drive, they discover new opportunities and there is seemingly no end to what they can accomplish – that is incredibly rewarding for staff. UNYA merely provides the platform, creating the space where youth like Jack can step into and create magic.
On top of everything he’s accomplished so far, Jack has worked hard to graduate from high school early, find his own housing, and has been an advocate for youth, through volunteering with the Federation of Youth in Care Network. When we discussed his future plans, Jack stated he wished to obtain a degree in education to become an elementary school teacher and possibly go into politics. No matter what career path he takes, Jack would like to help people learn. I have no doubt he will accomplish whatever goals he sets for himself. We wish him well on his journey.
Youth Feature – Amiel Flett-Brown
"It’s funny how one little decision can completely change your life.”
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Amiel Flett-Brown about his involvement in cycling at the Burnaby Velodrome. Ask Amiel about track cycling and you will notice his huge passion and dedication to the sport almost instantly. His eyes light up and you can hear the excitement rise in his voice when he starts speaking about his experience. "There’s nothing more exciting than taking a corner properly or riding really smooth on the track”. Amiel has been around bikes all his life, but his first trip to the Burnaby Velodrome with Urban Native Youth Association’s ‘Aboriginal Youth First Sports & Rec Program’ (AYF) sparked a passion for cycling in him that he says completely changed the direction of his life. Now, after only a little over a year he’s following an intense training schedule 6 days a week, is dominating races, and competing at provincial and national levels. "Hopefully it’s going to be a career for me.”
Many readers may recognize track cycling as part of the Summer Olympics; the sport has been included since their inception in 1896. For those who don’t know, a velodrome is an oval cycling track, with steep banking to allow for continuous moderate to high speed cycling. Riders need to maintain a speed of at least 30km per hour just to be able to physically stay on the track. The bikes are minimalist, with no brakes, no gears and no freewheel; if the back wheel is turning, so are the pedals. Speed is controlled by pedalling and by pushing back on the moving pedals.
Riding at high speed on a steep track, on a bike without brakes can be quite intimidating, even for experienced cyclers, but with a bit of encouragement from AYF staff Amiel got out onto the track and was hooked right away. He became a regular weekly participator in the program, started staying late at the track, doing specific, structured training workouts.
He received support from Kelyn Akuna, former member of the United States track cycling team, and founder of the Aboriginal Youth Cycling program (AYC). This program works in partnership with our AYF program to give youth the free opportunity to experience indoor track cycling. The support and commitment Amiel received from his dedicated mentor led him into competitive racing. He is now on the provincial team and will be competing at the Canadian national championships. In the future he hopes to represent Canada at the world cup. He would also like to move to Europe and ride professionally there. He would be proud to represent Aboriginal youth, as there aren’t a lot of Aboriginal professional cyclists.
While he has individual racing goals, Amiel is just as excited about sharing his passion with others and would like to find some way to give back to the people and programs that have supported him on his journey. He expresses his delight at watching other youth experience the velodrome for the first time and take an interest in cycling. Cycling with AYF has been so much fun for him, but youth are under no pressure to try cycling for themselves. It’s great if they just come and hang out.
Amiel recognizes that without support of programs like AYC and AYF, he wouldn’t be where he is now: "I don’t know anybody who’s as supportive as Amy and Nikki. They’re always backing whatever it is that I’m trying to do, always cheering while I’m racing, and it’s just a huge encouragement to have them at the track.”
It’s truly inspiring to see such a high level of passion, focus, and dedication in a young Aboriginal person. Participating in the AYF program gives all youth a chance to find new interests and discover their own potential.
If you’d like to learn more about the Aboriginal Youth First Sports & Rec program or the Aboriginal Youth Cycling program please visit www.unya.bc.ca or www.aboriginalyouthcycling.com. You can also email email@example.com or phone 604-254-7732.
Youth Feature – Dustin
Speaking with Dustin McGladrey, producer and host of CFNR’s documentary radio show "Journeys”, you’d be surprised to learn that he hasn’t always been a strong proponent of Aboriginal culture. The show, which focuses on current issues affecting First Nations people and showcases Canadian Indigenous musical artists and bands, is a perfect fit for Dustin. It allows him to share his incredible passion about culture with others and be a strong, positive role model for youth. Dustin, who has been attending Urban Native Youth Association for many years, has had quite a journey himself. He has applied his natural leadership abilities and positive energy to grow from youth participant, to volunteer, to program assistant before leaving Vancouver to pursue a career in broadcasting. He was kind enough to share some of his story with me.
Dustin is in his element working in radio. He’s articulate, a natural storyteller with a good sense of humour and incredible knowledge about strong Indigenous voices. If you’re looking for a recommendation for an influential musical artist or author, ask Dustin. You’d never guess that he hasn’t always had a strong connection to culture growing up. Unfortunately, negative ideas about Aboriginal people from peers made it difficult for him to fully embrace that part of his identity. But having a positive space with opportunities to participate in cultural activities, especially the annual Pulling Together Canoe Journey really opened the doors to culture for Dustin. Pulling Together is a ten day journey where police, government public service agencies, and First Nations youth travel together, with a focus on culture and improving relationships.
Although he came to Urban Native Youth Association to conduct a job search, Dustin soon found new activities and connections that kept him coming back regularly. Whether it’s music, cooking, snowboarding, positivity, or acceptance, "they give you what you need” he assures me. "You get integrated into this community of fantastic positivity and growth. It’s impossible not to grow yourself”. Staff would say that it was Dustin’s initiative and dedication that allowed him to excel and develop his natural skills through opportunities offered to him. Marie, coordinator of the Overly Creative Minds Program (OCM), says that Dustin always came in with intention and applied what he’d been learning. This was especially true when he started a radio broadcasting program at BCIT, which led him to his current job at CFNR and producing the radio show he’s always wanted to do.
Dustin speaks fondly of UNYA and its positive influence on him, but it’s important to recognize the reciprocal nature of his relationship with our organization. Marie states that when youth like Dustin come to programs with dedication, specific goals, and are vocal about their needs, their influence on programming creates opportunities for others. She tells me Dustin was the inspiration for acquiring the professional recording equipment in OCM, which has opened the door for other youth to record their songs and podcasts or learn to edit. He also suggested having an Elder visit, which is now part of regular programming.
So what does the future hold for Dustin? Canada’s First Nations Radio operates out of Terrace, BC, which is conveniently close to his home community of New Aiyansh, so he’s excited to continue his own journey, learning about his culture and traditions. He’s also involved in Custwyi, an online project aimed to help youth understand the history of colonization and the cumulative impacts it has on families. Wherever his journey takes him, we wish him every success.
You can catch Dustin’s show, "Journeys”, weekdays at 6pm on CNFR at http://cfnrfm.ca/
One of Mentorship’s longest running matches has recently come to a close. Carly and Samantha *were matched in December of 2007. When mentor Carly met her mentee Samantha, they didn’t know each other at all, but it has now been three years and they are closer than ever!
Carly and Samantha kept in touch over the years, meeting regularly and sharing some pretty memorable experiences together; lots of movies, a James Blunt concert, walks, meals, all you can eat sushi, the Aquarium, ice skating , a Canuck game and so much more. Carly most recently was supporting Samantha to get a job, and they would drop off resumes together throughout Vancouver. Even when distance separated the two of them, they kept in touch via email. They have shared so many years together, and so many laughs, and we congratulate them today on completing 3 years of Mentorship in the program. Carly says, without the support of the program, they would not have had access to so many tickets and activities in the community.
The greatest benefit to this relationship is that, although coming to a close, they have developed a friendship that will last a lifetime. Carly says that although she was Samantha’s mentor, Samantha taught her more than she ever thought possible. Carly wants to thank Samantha for being such a positive aspect of her life, and looks forward to knowing her for many years to come. Carly also wants Samantha to know what a beautiful, strong young woman she has become; she is so proud of her!
*not their real names
Young Wolves Lodge
Twenty-year old Julie* entered Young Wolves Lodge for a four-month stay with one goal in mind, to get herself better so that she could see her young child on a regular basis. Julie had been in the care of MCFD from 6 months old until she was 19. She had gone through as many as 20 different foster homes and became pregnant with her child at fifteen. Her addiction began at the age of 11 years and she was on to harder drugs by age 14. Her addiction escalated when she received tragic news about one of her parents. This downward spiral eventually led her onto the streets; leaving her child with his biological father. She suffered physical and mental abuse from a variety of partners, and suffered a total breakdown before entering YWL. At this point she realized that if she didn’t make better choices, and change her life, she would eventually die.
While at YWL, Julie began to come to terms with her past, low self-esteem and personal image and realized that she was just at the beginning of her recovery. Before graduating from YWL, she became a voice for youth throughout the community and blossomed into the woman that was always there, but hidden. A past graduate of YWL encouraged her to attend the recovery program, so she recognized the importance of sharing her story so that others could benefit from the program. She stated that the Young Wolves Lodge staff saved her life and were giving her another chance to be with her child. She realizes that she is not cured, but that she is on a long journey to recovery. She began looking into treatment programs that she could continue with once she left YWL, something she was against in her first couple of months of recovery. She went on to enter a 10-week treatment program and set a one year goal to work her way to reunite with her child and continue her life on the Red Road.
*Julie is not her real name