Mentee Turned Mentor: How one young person can influence manyOthers, Depression , Stories
Contributed by: Youth Unlimited (Greater Vancouver)
Wes was nine years old when he met YU youth worker, Amy Seiler. At the time, Wes was extraordinarily shy, inwardly battling the helplessness of an addicted father while sinking into depression. Twelve years of consistent mentorship later, Wes’s life’s trajectory, and who he is as a person, are on a new path.
Every day, Wes entered into a dark space. Regrettably, that space doubled as his home. His earliest memories are filled with hardship, as he navigated the toxicity of alcoholism in his home and endured constant yelling.
“My dad would say really mean comments to my mom and it was really hard to hear,” says Wes. “My older sister would take my brother and I up to her room or outside so we didn’t hear it.”
At a young age, the situation between Wes’s parents became so fragile that his mother took the children and moved out temporarily. “My dad would call at the same time every day and I never wanted to speak to him,” says Wes. “He’d get angry and blame my mom for it.”
Understandably, Wes didn’t know how to cope. He gravitated towards negativity, struggled with self-esteem, and entered into deep depression and anxiety. “As years went by, I became more anxious, and at 16 I was diagnosed with mild depression,” says Wes. “But the depression became worse and worse with time.”
LIGHT TO A DARK PLACE
Amy Seiler, a Youth Unlimited outreach worker in Langley, has been with YU for 12 years. Young at heart, and naturally so full of love and acceptance, she was just what Wes needed. They first met at YU’s afterschool program, “Nights Alive,” which like all YU programs, are designed to host youth in a safe, fun and welcoming environment. Wes was extremely shy, but pushed himself to attend regularly.
For the first few years, Wes stuck to the sidelines and rarely interacted with people, but he greatly valued his time there. “I would escape my reality of depression,” he says. “It seemed once I walked through the door, all my worries flew away!”
In grade 9, Amy became Wes’s mentor as he moved into YU’s Momentum program. There he supported younger youth, while learning about teambuilding and self-development. Officially mentored by Amy, the two met routinely for two years. As trust grew, Wes began to share about the pain from life at home.
After one night at the drop-in, Wes came home to an extremely aggressive amount of fighting. “I was texting Amy and said, ‘It’s getting to be too much, I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ And moments later the police show up,” says Wes. Amy called the police, and then she and a volunteer went to Wes’s home to support him and his siblings. It was common for Wes to be stuck in the middle of such harsh hostility. “I have always been absolutely terrified that I’m going to end up like my dad,” Wes says.
BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD
Through mentorship with Amy, and service with YU, Wes’s heart was profoundly transforming. “I’ve seen him grow in so many ways,” says Amy, “His attitude changed a lot. As he matured, Wes became more positive and realized he can do what he wants with his own life.”
“Amy taught me to value myself,” says Wes. “At the end of each week, she would ask me to tell her a low and a high, and something positive to take away from the week. Just practicing that made me see the brighter days ahead.” With Amy’s intervention, Wes was better equipped to fight his depression and anxiety.
MENTEE TURNED MENTOR
Surviving such extreme home challenges, coupled with loving support, has enabled Wes to become a source of strength for his many peers. “He advocates for his friends if they are being mistreated, and always stands up for people,” says Amy. “He has a whole lot of courage. Wes’s peers frequently message him for advice, and in the past, he would even walk his peers to the school counsellor’s office.”
Now, at 21 years old, Wes finds immense joy in caring for others. “With all the challenges I’ve overcome, volunteering and having so many people confide in me is something I hold dear to my heart,” says Wes. “Now, it just melts my heart that people can come to me.”