When Valarie Findlay was a young teenager, she went through some tough times.
Her parents had separated. “I found myself losing whatever structure I had,” the Ottawa woman recalled Thursday.
She became angry, abused substances and sought acceptance on the streets.
The Youth Services Bureau entered her life in the early 1980s, when she was 13.
“I was already so damaged that even establishing a productive counselling relationship with me was a massive challenge,” she said. “Sometimes, we put up walls not to keep others out, but to see who cares enough to tear them down.
“My YSB worker cared enough to tear my walls down.”
The care shown to her allowed her to see her life differently, she said. Still, she dropped out of high school, was charged as a young offender and placed in a high-risk group home by 14.
It was then that she realized she had to turn her life around.
At the celebration of the YSB’s 50th anniversary Thursday, Findlay expressed “my deepest gratitude for YSB’s guidance and support,” and in particular, to her YSB worker, Ruth Dulmage.
Stories like this one is what YSB is all about, said the organization’s executive director Alex Munter.
Many things have changed since the City of Ottawa’s Welfare Council founded the organization in 1960, said Munter.
Back in 1960, there were four staff — two full-time and two part-time — that served 18 kids.
“Today, we have 350 women and men … that serve between 2,500 and 3,000 youth and families every month,” Munter said. Many workers and clients, past and present, attended the celebration.
The organization now offers youth and family counselling, mental health programs, emergency shelters, supportive housing, employment programs, youth justice programs, a drop-in centre and a 24-hour crisis line.
“One thing hasn’t changed,” Munter said, “and that is the passion, commitment and determination of the women and men that work at the Youth Services Bureau.”
To the clients of YSB, Munter said, “this celebration is very much about you.
“We believe that no person’s entire future is defined by a struggle that they face, an obstacle they have encountered or a choice they have made.”