Taylor, an 18 year old, tech-talented youth from Maple Ridge, is no stranger to hardship and pain. She’s had challenges with identity and acceptance, spent her life juggling two households, and barely graduated high school.
Her mental health was constantly eroded by depression and school stress, while unknowingly battling the effects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“High school slowly got harder every year,” Taylor said, sharing that her situation made it difficult to complete school.
Sandra Reilly, a trained counsellor and gifted empathetic Youth Unlimited outreach worker, has been working in the Maple Ridge schools since 2016. That’s where she met Taylor.
“She was so stressed out,” says Sandra. “She had little support and a ton of pressure from her parents for post-secondary education.”
Too many hurdles
Taylor’s visible challenges only scratched the surface. Underneath, Taylor was experiencing a painful reality.
“I was actively suicidal,” said Taylor, who wrestled with depression and experienced an ongoing, complicated relationship with her parents. She came out as trans and pansexual at age 14.
“I was all over the place, I was a mess. I was so obsessed with everyone else’s opinion. My friend group sucked, everyone was toxic. I was the embodiment of great depression.”
Taylor was on suicide watch for six months, while trying to stay afloat in a self-motivated school.
A growing friendship
A significant amount of Sandra’s work takes place at Taylor’s school. There she helps in woodshop, metalwork and technology classes, but also keeps herself available in the hallways, as a safe presence and connection point for students who need her.
Sandra was present in Taylor’s Tech Lab work blocks for years, but it wasn’t until grade 11 that a mentoring friendship blossomed.
“Sandy found out quickly I wasn’t doing well in school because I spent all my time in the Tech Lab,” says Taylor.
“I was building things. I fixed a broken 3D printer; I built a polygraph and built all this random stuff. It was so cool and challenging, but none of it was academic. I was excelling in all my tech classes, but struggling in my academic ones.”
These academic classes were critical for post-secondary education. And Sandra noticed.
Sandra regularly hosts homework clubs to support students in their assignments. Early on in their friendship, Sandra realized how desperate Taylor’s situation was and that the need for support was immediate.
“I told Taylor: ‘I’m going to see you walk across that stage’,” says Sandra, “‘You’re not doing this alone.’ For a long time, she couldn’t understand why I cared.”
At first, Taylor had no idea where to even start to reach her graduation goal, but Sandra supported her every step. “Sandy helped me talk to my teachers because I was really shy. She helped me compile lists of what I needed to do and she would sit down with me and say, ‘Okay, I don’t understand any of this, but we’re going to work through this together.’”
Rising to the challenge, Taylor fought hard for her grades and in 2019 she successfully reached her goal.
“I don’t think I would have graduated if Sandy hadn’t been there to help,” she says, recalling the long days of studying.
However, it was more than just about academics; Sandra was always available for Taylor whenever she needed to talk about the journey of depression.
“She’s someone I can rant to and emotionally dump on. Sandra is one of two of my only friends right now.”
Home away from home
Against all odds and thanks to her hard work and natural technology talent, Taylor is now pursuing mechanical engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Though the challenges of depression persist, she is thrilled to have reached this stage of life.
“I didn’t think I would be alive today, and I certainly didn’t think I would be at post-secondary school,” Taylor says with pride in her eyes.
And for Sandra and Taylor, the mentorship journey continues. Taylor often spends time with Sandra and her family. They go on walks, Sandra is teaching Taylor how to drive and Sandra’s husband regularly offers to teach Taylor how to cook.
“It’s like wow; this is a home away from home.” Taylor says.
To those struggling the way Taylor has, she offers this encouragement: “It does get better in the way that you learn to deal with and overcome your problems. It doesn’t feel as heavy, it gets better.”
Youth Unlimited is affiliated with a network of Youth Unlimited and YFC youth workers all around the world:
We see the hope and potential in every young person we meet and reach through community specific programs. We’re committed to extending Christ’s love to youth who otherwise are falling through the cracks in Greater Vancouver.
Our purpose is to see these young lives transformed through relationships. It all starts with connection, the moment when a young person meets a Youth Unlimited youth worker who will be there for them for the long haul.
This article is re-posted by permission from the Youth Unlimited September 2020 Connections newsletter.
Ride for Refuge
Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited is hoping to raise $20,000 for their work in the annual Ride for Refuge October 3. (“We’ll gather virtually, self-organizing in smaller, covid-friendly teams or groups as permitted.”) Go here for details.