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Wednesday, 26 December 2018 07:15

A Cadet Christmas Story

cadet christmas storyThis is a true story… identifiers not included for privacy reasons

There are two words you hope you will never hear in the same sentence: “Homeless” and “Cadet” and yet such was the youth that appeared at a Homeless Veteran’s health clinic one day in Langford, British Columbia. Looking barely older than a boy, here was a disenfranchised, “off the grid” youth who attributed his very survival to the skills he had learned by being a Cadet.

That winter day was unusually bitter; staying outside was perilous.

Terri Orser, the coordinator of the Homeless Veteran’s Health Clinic was greeting homeless Veterans and ex-service persons in need at the front entrance of the Legion when the shivering young man approached her.

“I don’t want to impose; I’m not a Veteran but I’m really cold and hungry- is it ok if I come in?”

“Everyone in need is welcome here,” Terri said as she brought him over to the nurse.

 “I have someone for you to see,” said Terri, “He looks like he could use your help.”

The nurse saw that the boy was injured, underdressed and thin. “Come on over here for some lunch first,” she said. Terri was already preparing a large plate of warm food.

 It was a curious sight: there amongst an array of older persons who had served their country was someone so young, with impeccable manners and deportment, whose life was yet to begin, already struggling with homelessness.  Though famished, Terri and the nurse watched as he folded his hands together and bowed his head, taking the time to give thanks before lifting his spoon to enjoy his hot meal. The Veterans, who had seen hard times themselves, engaged him in conversation, protecting their vulnerable guest, as Veterans do.

After lunch, Terri took the boy back to the nurse.  It was determined that he had not had health care in over a year and was struggling to manage with a poorly healed fractured arm.  The nurse checked him over, gave him some much-needed first aid and immunizations. While she looked at the broken arm, the youth described his journey over the past year and how it became impossible to live at home.   His homelessness was a symbol of the combustion that can occur when adolescence and dysfunctional family life ignite. He could no longer attend Cadets once he had left home; any semblance of the routines of normal life had dissolved.

"How did you manage to survive and do so well all this time?”  Asked the nurse.

The young man rose to his feet, stood at attention and said, "Ma'am, because I was a Cadet.”  His Cadet training shone through.

Not about to let him go back outside into the world alone again, Terri and the nurse talked to him about his plans.  

 The boy said that he had found a place where he could go as of that night, that an elderly lady he met kindly offered him a furnished room in a basement suite and meals for free if he helped around the house and in the yard. The room would be vacant as of ‎1800 hrs, when the other tenant was moving out. He would sleep in what would become his own warm bed for the first time in 8 months.   “Now I can look for a job and finish high school.  I want to go to college to become a landscape architect.”

He had a piece of paper with his new address and the name of his landlady.  Armed with referrals and contacts, he was told to come to the Legion if he needed any help and to call Terri or the nurse directly anytime. Now, just days away from turning nineteen years old, he would enter a new phase in his life. An emblem of potential, this young man would never be homeless again.

Before leaving, he went to every Veteran in the room and thanked each one for their service.  

 Those who work with the Cadet programs in Canada don’t always see the long-term influences of their devoted work with youth, but in Langford, British Columbia that day, a light shone brightly on the efforts of the Cadet organizations.

 To all of those involved in the Cadet organization, know that although you cannot protect youth from life's difficulties, you do equip them with the skills to face adversity. Your contributions to Canada’s youth are significant, sustained and profound.

 Merry Christmas, from Deborah Morrow

Last modified on Saturday, 29 December 2018 07:12

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