It was a pleasant surprise to see a young, bright face at the table waiting patiently to be interviewed. A few weeks before, a staff member from the Kingston Military Family Resource Centre (KMFRC) had contacted me to interview Samantha McDonald. The staff member described Samantha’s strong volunteer and leadership qualities. I, mistakenly, assumed that those qualities meant that Samantha would be an older teenager, probably someone who was off to conquer both the world and post-secondary studies. “I want to study police foundations, move to Alberta, and become an RCMP officer” states Samantha. I question her as to how she has decided that goal at such a young age. Samantha goes on to explain that an RCMP officer is the perfect balance of two of her favourite things, riding horses and helping people. Samantha and her family have lived in Kingston for three years. Samantha’s father is in the military and Samantha loves Kingston because, “there are a lot of opportunities, everything is so close… I ride my bike everywhere including to school almost daily” when the weather permits. The tone in Samantha’s voice drops when I ask her about moving to Kingston from a much smaller town. “Because my dad is military we move around a lot, it’s hard to move to a new city”. Samantha explains that her previous school had 46 students while currently she attends a school with almost 300 students. Samantha states that her transition was difficult but made easier by the KMFRC . “They offer us lots of help and tons of free activities” Samantha describes her horseback riding program where she is able to take horse riding classes for very low cost. “I’m able to work my fees off by volunteering my time”. These cost saving are a huge help to her and her family, “we’re a big family… 6 of us total plus our pets” exclaims Samantha. Samantha is an active volunteer with KMFRC and helps younger participants learn new skills and stay involved. I ask “Why do you volunteer?” “Volunteering is fun, it makes me happy… keeps me from being bored” Samantha further explains “Staying involved helps you make friends, keeps you active and it’s fun to see others practise skills that you teach”. It amazes me how someone so young has already discovered the key to happiness. I ask “who encourages you to stay active?” Samantha replies,” My mom and dad, they are my heroes… most days we come home from school, eat dinner, and then we’re off to get active”. It seems that great youth are almost always fostered by great adults. Samantha has honed her leadership skills; she is active in Cadets as captain of the drill and first aid teams and has earned the rank Chief Petty Officer 2nd class, which makes her second in command of the unit. Samantha reminds me that while leadership qualities can be both learned and earned, they need to be practiced and shared with others to be most effective.
I notice Alisha Rider waiting eagerly outside a classroom at Q.E.C.V.I. It’s hard to miss Alisha’s bright smile and colourful hair. Once we meet I apologize for being late. Alisha replies with resounding confidence “No worries, I’m just excited to do this interview”. Alisha is currently enrolled in the NEXUS program at QECVI. Alisha explains that NEXUS is, “a mental health classroom for teens that have faced challenges and are learning coping strategies to slowly be able to return to regular classes”. Alisha describes herself as a “busy body” and tells me that she has lots to do. Every Tuesday Alisha attends New Mentality, a social group for young people who are working through mental health challenges. Alisha speaks openly about her mental health struggles. “Mental health was introduced to me early. My mother was diagnosed bi-polar. Sometimes she was really happy and other times she was really sad. No one ever told me what she had. It wasn’t until the 7th grade when I learned about bi-polar disorder… before that I just assumed my mom was crazy”. Alisha apologizes for calling her mom “crazy” but states that she used those feelings to educate herself in order to advocate for those facing similar challenges. Alisha explains that her mental health diagnoses came later in childhood. “I knew I felt different, but I never talked about it, no one ever told me to talk about it. It wasn’t until I was hospitalized and met a worker at Pathways (for children and youth) that I started to learn coping strategies. Thinking back I just wished there was another young person telling me “you’re not alone” I could have done a bit better”. Alisha has now become that “young person” that she so desperately needed as a child. ” I am also a peer facilitator at F.U.S.E.” Alisha describes her role at F.U.S.E. ( a support group for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans and Questioning youth) as another opportunity to speak to other youth and let them know that they are not alone. Alisha’s goal is to get out into the community and share her message. Alisha highlights that Kingston has many resources but she wishes that they were publicized directly in the schools, “teachers and school staff didn’t know about F.U.S.E. or Youth Mentality… I wish they let me know that there were places I could turn to for help.” Alisha’s ultimate goal is to continue her education and move to Toronto where she feels her message can reach a greater number of young people. I asked Alisha if she envisioned herself being the next celebrity mental health/LGBTQ ambassador like Ellen Degeneres. She smiles proudly, “yeah! something like that