MEET AJ

AJ says he should have been successful, but wasn’t.

By his 11th birthday, he’d been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). That led to diagnoses of general anxiety and depression, too.

“Growing up, I was in the gifted program at school, but I got into shouting matches with my teachers. Things like that happened a lot,” he recalls. “Teachers were constantly telling me to leave. Eventually I did.”

Becoming isolated

AJ stopped going to school in Grade 10.

“My first job was working at a fast food restaurant, where they viewed me as difficult because I wouldn’t take out the trash. My refusal (to do so) was because of my OCD, which was germ-related and was very bad at that time. I would shower up to four times a day. I had little social life, which really hindered my growth as a person.”

His mental-health challenges also made it difficult to get along with his family. Although AJ loves his parents and appreciated their help in finding different doctors, he felt alone.

“My depression was so bad that it manifested as suicidal thoughts. By the time I was 18, it was way too much for me. I had no money. I had no education. I ended up leaving home. I would stay in the hospital for a 72-hour hold, or I’d go to a homeless shelter. I didn’t want to go home.”

Finding home again

“Eventually, I was connected with a social worker through a program that’s supported by United Way. The social worker helped me get provincial disability support and access a range of services, including counselling, housing, peer support and skill development that made me feel more hopeful about my future.

“Today, I volunteer with youth as a peer support worker at the agency. It really helps me to be able to help others. I no longer feel like a burden on society.

“I still work with my social worker one-on-one. We’ve looked at finding work for me and applying to schools as a mature student. It’s nice to know that people care about me and want me to succeed. That’s pretty powerful.”

Across our region, 15,860 children under the age of 18 live with low income, according to the most recent Census data (2016).

At United Way Simcoe Muskoka, our donors help local youth find and keep safe housing, stay in school, and gain life-skills and other supports to become independent and successful adults.

Learn more about youth poverty in Simcoe Muskoka.

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LOCAL YOUTH ARE STRUGGLING. YOU CAN HELP.