Everything changed around seven years ago, and I’m extremely grateful to say that today, I have a real life. I’ve gone from high school dropout to college graduate, I’m self-employed and in the process of starting my own business, I have healthy relationships, and I’m following my dreams. Even though it took a long time for me to realize the impact and benefits of Trails Youth Initiatives, the effects are undeniable. Trails took me in, despite the fact that I didn’t attend one of the feeder schools. They let me continue the program, even when we didn’t have the money to pay for it. Trails saw an opportunity to help a child in need, and didn’t let anything stand in the way of that. It showed me the meaning of service, support, and charity; and now I strive to follow that shining example. Currently I am actively involved in several community and worldwide organizations, through volunteering or donation, and serve as board secretary with my spiritual organization. I advocate for inclusion, equality, and peace among people, along with respect and gratitude for nature. You see, I didn’t grow up with people who believed in these things. I was never really surrounded by people who faced their fears or tried to give back to society. Trails taught me these things.

Trails gave me a lot of firsts. My first international flight out of the country to Wales. My first expedition on horseback. My first mentor, who still remains very dear to me. Most importantly, my first time being able to speak about what life was like back home without judgment. Our group session talks made me face my innermost feelings that had been buried for so long. This was by far one of the most integral parts of my healing process. It allowed me to not be afraid or ashamed of my past but empowered and inspired by it. I dreamt bigger because of Trails. My goal was always to pursue post-secondary school, but this seemed unattainable given my family’s finances. Trails saw this and found a way for me to see this dream come true. They found amazing people that could provide bursaries and I was able to attend the University of Toronto. This not only gave me an overwhelming sense of security but the feeling that someone apart from my family loved me enough to see the best in me. For this I am forever grateful.

Through the Trails Youth Initiatives bursary program, I was given the opportunity to leave my childhood home and pursue higher education, which has in turn increased my occupational opportunities, as well as opened my eyes to the diverse world of perspectives that exist outside of my own. It was through Trails Youth Initiatives that I first witnessed real generosity; being educated, included and championed, with the sole intention of brightening my future so that I could one day pay it forward and brighten someone else’s. Through this generosity I have learned what it truly means to be part of a community – to support and be supported unequivocally.

Because of Trails’ support, I have been able to acquire the knowledge and experience to mentor others and have been able to put these qualities into action through my mentorship of younger Trails graduates and family members, as well as my advocacy for student rights through the Ryerson University Psychology Students’ Association.

I grew up in the Downsview area of Toronto, with my sister and our mom. My father was in and out of jail so his presence was never consistent in my life as a young child. I have not seen him since 2010 and there has never been any support to help with the expenses or cost of raising my sister and I.

At Trails, I was provided with opportunities I would not otherwise have had access to. Through various activities over the years, I have learned emotional resiliency, coping strategies and conflict resolution skills which allow me to communicate effectively. As I progressed through Trails, I became a strong peer mentor for other participants and encouraged them while we worked through mentally and physically challenging activities. After completing my four years at Trails, I was selected to return as a Leader in Training to work with the younger participants. This is when I truly became aware of the impact my leadership had on others.

Trails built my confidence in myself and helped me realize what I had to offer others. From there I was able to build life-long connections with my peers in my group, and grow through shared experiences like the canoe trips, as well as through conflicts with each other which helped learn how to communicate effectively with each other. Taking time over the programme to build those relationships and build on our confidence in different areas outside of our comfort zone prepared us to take those skills and experiences into our lives outside of Trails. That’s how I have seen the Trails mission work.

I honestly forget to realize how vast and supportive our Trails family is  and the importance of keeping in touch with one another. Even with my blood family I am a very self-reliant individual and fail to ask for help when I could really use it. Reached out to Brandon for a favour that I thought would be a lot to ask for, but just like always at Trails, I was able to be helped beyond that and introduced to another portion of the bigger picture and family. Thank you very much for choosing to be a part of my journey. I hope to be on the other side doing the same thing one day.