In the course of preparing for my intended run for public office, I have been trying to learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can, about a wide range of civic support functions and community service organizations that touch our city and its citizens.
Needless to say, it has been an enlightening exercise. To the credit of these many entities and the people behind them, our city is blessed with an impressive array of exceptional service organizations that ensures London remains true to its legacy as a generous, caring community – one that directs its energy and resources to the aid of the most vulnerable among us, especially in times of great need.
One such organization that recently caught my eye was Youth Opportunities Unlimited.
I first became aware of this organization during my review of the City’s Housing First funding strategy and very much liked the planned approach. I was also acquainted with a number of their Board members and immediately gained a high level of respect for their mission and service model.
Briefly, Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) is a community-based initiative dedicated to the engagement, enablement, and empowerment of young people who might be struggling with a range of traumatic and debilitating issues: abuse, mental health, addiction, poverty and/or homelessness.
It is an extraordinary organization comprised of an extraordinary group of people that has been in the service of our most vulnerable youth for over 35 years.
However, what motivated me to write about it, was the last Thursday’s YOU fund-raising breakfast and the incredibly moving story offered up by the event’s guest speaker, Ms. Madi Parks.
My writing cannot possibly do her story justice and even a brief summary of her struggles, recovery and rejuvenation would be woefully inadequate. What I can say is that it was compelling, heartfelt, courageous and uplifting.
I know this because as she was speaking, this bright 20-year old woman, who had already endured a lifetime of hardship, deceit and denial, held captive a room of 1,200 people riveted to her story in manner like I have never seen before. It was hard to know what everyone was thinking at the time, but the audience was clearly hanging on her every word. As she spoke, I could not help but think about my own 20-something kids and the thin line young people face today between a living a life filled with aspiration, love and support; and one fighting to simply survive the day.
It was an incredibly powerful statement about her as an individual; her challenges, her recovery, and her determination to rise even higher. It was also a very powerful testimonial for YOU and the value it brings to our community.
Its ironic that in today’s intense 24/7 multimedia environment, where tweets, talk, and speeches all seem to run together into some sort of mindless drone that scrolls by endlessly and without much impact; a bright young woman with a simple message could silence a room, and on a cold February morning, touch so many lives in the process.
I shall not forget Ms Park’s story nor the positive impact YOU has had in her life.
Like so many amazing organizations in our city, they are quietly and without much applause, making a material difference in people’s lives and we are a better community for it.