Phillip – YARD

My name is Phillip and I am a graduate of the Youth at Risk Development Program (YARD).

When I was younger I was breaking into cars, stealing, smashing bus shelters, skipping school, and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Doing all this made me feel invincible because I got away with it.

It came to an end when I was caught shoplifting at Chinook Mall. Rather than throw me into jail and set my path down a criminal life, the Calgary Police did an assessment on me and I was placed in the YARD program.

Constable Al was assigned to me. He knew my friends were a bad influence and the first step was to remove me from them. To do this, he found what I was interested in – track and field. He knew training would take up most of my time and take the focus off my friends.

Next were my grades. I was failing every class, but the worst was in English Language Arts, where I had a 19.4%. Constable Al organized a tutor for me, and my English grade skyrocketed to 84% by the end of the year. I was presented with the Reed Improvement Award for being the most improved student in school.

Another thing Constable Al did was to get me into therapy to rebuild my relationship with my mom. It was difficult for us to communicate because of all the trouble I had caused her. The therapy helped heal our relationship and now we are closer than ever.

I continued with track and field and my grades improved tremendously each year. I won both city and provincial championships for hurdles in high school.

My life has continued down the road to success. I am a University of Calgary graduate and I couldn’t be happier. I am so thankful that the Calgary Police saw potential in me – enough so to place me into the YARD program. And I am so grateful to all those who worked with me, believed in me, and taught me the important things in life.

It has truly helped shape who I am today and I know my life would have taken a much darker path if it were not for the people who helped me most. 

The very people I used to tempt with catching me.

We Are a Work in Progress Family… And That is Ok – Noah’s Story

By Corinne Wilkinson

I arrive at Patrick Airlie Elementary, one of two Calgary Integrated School Support Program (ISSP) schools that receives funding from the Calgary Police Foundation (CPF).  ISSP offers a complete wrap-around model of teachers, Police Officers, Social Workers, psychologists, gym teachers, health care professionals, and daily nutritious meals to vulnerable youth.

I have been invited to meet eight-year old Noah. Janice, his MASST Social Worker with the City of Calgary invites me to join in their game of Monopoly.  We conduct an interview at the same time which Noah is totally cool with.  Turns out Noah loves Monopoly, Lego, crafts, school, chocolate, and that his family is, in his one-word answer, “kind.”

Earlier this school year, Noah was presented with a CPF challenge coin for overcoming some of his most difficult challenges at school.  But it was not always this way, and even today Mom says “we never know which Noah we’ll get when he wakes up.”

After meeting Noah, I travel to meet Mom and Dad, and Noah’s two younger sisters at their home. Noah has two older siblings as well, a brother and a sister, so Noah is smack dab in the middle of five children.

The family’s experience with an ISSP school started with Ethan, Noah’s older brother.  But Ethan only had the benefit of the program for one year before he aged-out when he finished grade six. Research shows prevention and early intervention programs have the most positive impact with kids before they get to junior high school.

Mom and Dad share that Noah, unlike Ethan, has the benefit of attending an ISSP school starting in grade one, and is also registered in the Multi Agency School Support Team (MASST) program.  MASST sees students meet weekly with a Police Officer and a Social Worker – learning that they are safe adults.  ISSP and MASST, and the tremendous support Noah is now receiving, is what Mom and Dad would have wished for Ethan.

Noah is ADHD.  Ethan is ADHD.  Dad is ADHD.  

“Ethan was taking stuff that did not belong to him when he was only three years old,” says Mom. “There were things he was doing that made me think he was on the high functioning spectrum of autism.  But there was no additional help.” 

Ethan started to show great improvement in his only year at the ISSP school, but all too soon it came to a mandatory end.

“We are living through some challenges with Ethan now because he did not get the same opportunity that Noah is getting, and we will be damned if Noah takes the same path Ethan has.”  Today the family is sourcing many out-of-home resources to help 14-year old Ethan deal with the circumstances he is facing. 

“Ethan was a handful, getting in trouble with the law, and our time was consumed with helping him.  But we realized our other three young children were paying the price of being neglected, especially Noah.”

Six-year old Noah was having outbursts at school, running away, and throwing screaming fits. The Principal would pick him up and carry him to her office as he yelled down the hall and grabbed at the walls. 

Noah’s behaviour had permeated outside of class to the point where kids treated him differently.  For the past two years, eight kids have been invited to each of his two birthday parties.  In the two years, only two attended – one arriving late.  Mom and Dad tried to explain that families are sometimes busy, but Noah’s answer said it all “ “it’s OK, I knew no one would come.”

Noah says now, at age eight and a year in the program, his best achievement is “being calm.  I don’t run down the hallways anymore.” 

Mom shares more.  Noah’s favourite activity is playing with his younger sisters, and of course his arts and crafts.  He is playing baseball this summer and attends the ISSP after-school program of supervised fun and games for kids until 6 PM. 

Noah learns many of his crafts from the TV series MacGyver, which the family rarely misses an episode.  “He loves watching what MacGyver can make and fix.  Give Noah paper, staples, crayons, foam, anything crafty and he will make something really cool out of it.”

We turn our conversation to the family’s history, and Mom and Dad share openly.  But – not before asking Noah’s young sister to play in her bedroom for a few minutes.

“That is one of the things we learned – little ears are excellent at picking up on our adult conversations.”

Two years ago Mom and Dad separated.  There was too much arguing, disagreement over the kids, and not treating each other very well.  Dad returned to Ontario, while Mom stayed in Calgary with the kids. 

“Noah was at the height of his issues at school and I think our separation really spiked his behaviour.  That is when Janice and Officer Tony, the MASST team at the time, were introduced into our lives.”

Mom switched jobs to become a school bus driver so she could be home during the day with her young children.

“But even still, Noah was acting up at school and was quite verbally abusive with me. He let me know he was not taking it well.”

Mom met someone new in her life and that too had a further impact on Noah. 

“At first Noah did not mind him, but then my friend realized he might have bitten off more than he could chew with my kids.  Ethan with his ADHD and in trouble with the law, Noah acting up in school and being verbally abusive at home.  It just did not work– I could not have someone in my life who did not like my children.  Or who my children did not like in return.”

After some time, Dad moved back to Calgary, and they realized they still loved each other, that there was something worth saving in the relationship, and that they just needed to work harder at it.

Today Noah spends a lot of time with Police Officers – in a good way.  Learning they are his safe adults. He trusts them.

“When we were growing up, if the Police showed up at school or at someone’s house it was only because someone had done something seriously wrong,” shares Dad.  “Noah is learning the exact opposite, and that is one of the big experiences we wish Ethan had had.”

“Ethan was the class clown, but Noah we are told is a role model in school,” says Mom.  “Teachers also tell us that Noah now does a much better job of owning his behaviour.”   

But he is not quite out of the woods yet.  Young Noah is still learning to deal with his emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, and short-lived fits. 

“But the big difference is now we tell him it is OK to be mad, he just needs to channel it into something positive.  MASST is helping him with that.”

“If we could talk to families struggling like we were, and some days still are, we would say hang in.  With all the help we have received from the CPF funded programs, we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing that is happening to our sons is where you want your kids to be.  Serious challenges facing a young teenager are not what we want Ethan to be.  An angry and verbally abusive eight year old is not what we want Noah to be.” 

Dad admits things have really changed since he was a young boy with ADHD.  “I was put in a special education class with teachers who were trained to handle us – we were all together in the same room. Today, ADHD is not considered a special education category.”

“Ethan has made some bad choices and he knows it, but it is hard to blame him entirely. Ethan himself was victimized.  Twice MASST presented him with a new bike and twice it was stolen – lock and all – out of our own back yard. How do you explain to a young boy the need to make better choices in his life when others are not treating him fairly?”  

The family perseveres.  But what they really want is to express their heartfelt thanks to CPF donors for giving them more opportunity to help Noah lead a happy, fulfilling life. 

“Thank you for all the cool things we can do as a family, Ethan included, which is really helping our relationship.  Experiences that we could never afford like the Calgary Zoo, the Good Food Box, family movie passes, and the professional MASST support services at Noah’s ISSP school. We know it is absolutely making a difference for Noah, and we also believe the future will see a different and happier Ethan.”   

“I think the best way a donor could see the incredible impact they are having is to come to the Patrick Airlie School BBQ.  The Officers are cooking burgers, playing games, and getting the kids into fire trucks and police cars.  You will see instantly the difference that having Police Officers in our children’s young lives is making. As parents, we know the Officers give it all they have with our community’s kids, and we cannot say thank you enough.” 

Back to Noah. 

“Every day can be a surprise with Noah.  But what is not a surprise – we are getting a much more engaged Noah and a much happier Noah than we had a year ago. This is thanks to his teachers, his Principal, Janice, and Officer Ron – all of whom we are so grateful to have in our lives.”

“He is a busy boy.  He is a happier boy.  And for that we say thank you to everyone and every donor that makes ISSP and MASST possible.  It is life changing for Noah, and for us as a family.

ISSP and MASST are possible through the funding received by the Calgary Police Foundation.  The Foundation raises $2M annually to fund six youth programs that work hard to keep our Calgary kids safe from criminality and victimization. Learn more about the Foundation at www.CalgaryPoliceFoundation.ca

Jamie – MASST

A letter from Jamie….

I’m unsure if you still work here, I have no clue if you still use this email. But this is Jamie, a kid you worked with in Calgary.

I moved, about four years ago or so.  And I thought I had lost your email. I know we don’t really talk, as our time together has ended. But I just wanted to thank you.

At the time I was seeing you, I still wasn’t ready to see all my own issues, I wasn’t ready to talk about my problems or my trauma properly. I was little, and I wanted so badly for others to hurt just as badly as I was hurting. 

But without you, I doubt I would’ve made it where I am, where I can admit I have a large amount of trauma, and where I have learned to ask for help when I need it.

Life is still difficult, and I now know that it will always be difficult, as that is the way life is. I still struggle so much, but I’m also still learning. 

I’m going to be turning 19 soon, and I’m also going to be going back to high school on the 31st, because I’m strong enough to admit I needed more time to fully complete my schooling.

I’ve made more friends, I’ve learned more about myself. I kept many secrets from you even when you were trying to help me, but you still improved my life more than I can fully say. I know that it was your job, but you doing your job kept me alive.

My relationship with my mother has improved, we both learned, and we both grew up.

I have a cat – she helps me to remember that my life affects others.  Because when I take care of her, I see her love and growth. And then I can extend that thought to the people I know, and I realize I am someone stable, who exists.

I’m still doing art, though I haven’t improved as much as I wish I had, because there were times where I still gave up on it.  

I’m unsure of what else to say at this point, and this is an essay you probably didn’t expect to see.

But again: thank you, truly, and sincerely. I cannot explain how much you did for me even when I did my best to continue down a dark path.

I hope you’re doing well!

— Jamie

Name changed for anonymity and stock photography used

“Mom, My Love Bucket is Empty. Can We Hang Out?”

Names have been changed and stock photography has been used to protect the family.

His first brave start to life was the moment he was born – at only 26 weeks weighing in at four and a half pounds.  A premature baby with the fight of his life to begin three hours later.  Surgery to delicately place his intestines inside his body and prayers that his body would accept them.  Jeff has had eight surgeries, most before he was six months old.  

A young mom at 17, Jacqueline was facing more than many would see in a lifetime. Two families in major conflict, a young mom and dad – kids themselves – fearing for their newborn, and a medical team with their hands full.  “What I saw that tiny boy go through, fighting as hard as he did, has never left me – it’s why I fight every day to give him a normal life,” shares Jacqueline.

Mom and dad did not have a long relationship, and soon Jacqueline found herself without a job, without money, no place to live, and a baby in tow.  Jacqueline and son Jeff moved into the Women’s Shelter. 

“The shelter was not how I would choose to live, but I had no other option.” Jacqueline describes it as a good place – a roof over their heads, a community kitchen, and somewhat of a social environment, albeit perhaps, not always the best. 

They spent a lot of time at the Calgary Public Library and as a very special treat, an ice cream on the way home for Jeff.  “I wanted him even then to build fond memories of an outing with mom.”  

Determined to move out of the Shelter and reach the dream of having their own place, yard, car, and the dog that Jeff has always wanted, Jacqueline went back to finish high school, and last year earned her learner’s license.

One day while living in the shelter, she received information for a job that helped women get back on their feet. “I wasn’t sure I would get it. I could really relate to women in need, but I wasn’t sure I would be welcomed to see it from an employee’s side.”

But she did get the job.  And she’s been there ever since.  It’s not a surprise.  While Jacqueline does not see herself as a hero, others do.  It is her fierce determination to be the best mom ever.

Fast-forward to Jeff turning six years old, five big body scars, a medical file six inches deep, and a very anxious little boy starting school. 

“He was so angry, frustrated in his classroom, outbursts in class, and would literally run away.  At home, his behaviour was the same, and it was hard to understand what was happening,” says Jacqueline.

“Jeff’s dad and I started out with equal shared custody and I thought it was the back and forth every two weeks,” says Jacqueline. When Jeff came home from his dad’s, there was a three-day lapse, attitude, broken house rules, and an angry child who was trying to understand two different lives he was being asked to live.  The judge awarded Jacqueline custody, with Jeff now spending every second weekend with his dad.  But sadly, the outbursts at school continued – even with more stability in his home life.

“I won’t ever forget Jeff’s first Principal.  It was her insight into Jeff’s behaviour, and perhaps because her husband is a Police Officer, she saw something else happening to Jeff that we did not.” 

The Principal recommended Jeff for the MASST program (Multi Agency School Support Team).  MASST is an early intervention initiative that supports children from ages five to 12 who exhibit behaviour that puts them at risk of criminal involvement, or who are at increased risk of being victimized.

“I had no idea what MASST was, that such a program existed, or that it could be something to help us,” admits Jacqueline.  “I didn’t consider something else bubbling under the surface of Jeff’s young life.”

What came to light was that Jeff had a severe learning disability – he was smart enough to realize that his brain did not work like his classmates and his frustration only fuelled his anger. 

The MASST team taught Jeff how to recognize when he needed a break, calming techniques, provided field trips to experiences, and hired a university student tutor who he bonded closely with.  Police Officers continued to stop in to say hi and see how Jeff was doing. 

“This is all making such a positive difference in Jeff’s life and finally I feel, three years later, we are through the worst of it,” says Jacqueline. 

Today Jeff is in grade five and in a classroom of only ten students – kids each with their own anxiety and learning disabilities. While personalities can be polar opposite, group tasks are accomplished with students learning to work in teams, even if they reach the end goal in different ways.

“Now he loves school, and is a leader in his classroom,” says a proud mom.   “Jeff has come full circle.  He is confident, outgoing, engaging with his teachers and classmates, a comedian, and really enjoys school. His stress levels have come down and there are far less anxiety attacks.”

“When we see Police Officers, Jeff is excited to say hello and have a conversation. Now he can identify what’s going on in his head and instinctively knows not only how to help himself, but also who is on his side to get him over the hump.”

At grade five, young Jeff is already pondering his future, and recently asked, “how long can I live with you mom?  Do I have to leave when I am 18?”  Jacqueline’s answer is a swift “no” – but – “you will need to carry on with your education and get a good job,” she answers. “You can live with me as long as you like, but I want you to be successful so you can live the life you enjoy.”

But it’s when Jeff shares his beautiful smile and says, “Mom my love bucket is empty – can we hang out today?” that Jacqueline’s heart melts.  “If he wants to hang out with me, I know I am making the positive difference in his life I always hoped I would.  And all of this could never have happened without the MASST program funded by the CPF that we are both forever grateful for.”