Ex-gang member inspires youth to take the high road
When Dennis was four years old, he witnessed his father shoot a man. Following that, Dennis spiralled into a life of drugs, gangs and violence. So fifty years later it would come to much surprise that his life story inspired a youth to say no to gangs.
Dennis comes from a family with a history of organized crime. His father wasn’t around much, and his family made no effort to conceal his whereabouts. “Daddy’s out robbing banks,” Dennis remembers thinking to himself. He sought his father’s approval and idolized him for the power and prestige he seemed to receive. “I used to romanticize everything, and grew up with a warped sense of justice - what is mine and how to get it.”
Dennis clearly remembers buying his first bag of dope when he was a kid. “Who knew it would change my life,” he recalls. By 14, he joined his first street gang in an effort to protect himself from an unsafe neighbourhood. (As the old adage goes: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.) By 18, Dennis was known as a drug importer.
But nothing could protect Dennis from losing friends in gang shootings, or avoiding many close calls of his own. “Every time I met someone, I wondered if this is the one that’s gonna get me killed,” he says. “But it’s that rush that’s addictive, it’s so real.” Nevertheless, Dennis pulled out of the drug trade for good.
Dennis found work in mills and kitchens (he has a passion for cooking), but discovered that he was battling untreated mental health, addictions and anger management issues. When they recently emerged, he turned to SHARE for help and was quickly enrolled in Addictions Counselling and Anger Management. “My counsellor has been amazing. She dug deeper into my past, and that’s when she asked me to write the letter.”
His counsellor had also been working with a Tri-City youth who had expressed interest in joining a gang. She believed that Dennis could dissuade him from this lifestyle if he shared with the youth his life story. Dennis was shocked by her request, and couldn’t believe that his life could have a positive impact on another. Nonetheless, in an effort to do what he could, he wrote the letter.
When he found out that his letter had been successful, he cried. “To this day I struggle with the the idea that my life could have impacted someone,” he confesses. “But it also makes me sad to think of all the kids that don’t receive a letter. It drives me to want to do more.” Since his treatment has ended, he has volunteered at SHARE’s food bank and is currently enrolling himself at Vancouver Community College to become a guidance counsellor.
Dennis is emphatic that the community is there to help you, but you have to first want to help yourself. “I have seen people that actually care and want to make a difference. And I want to be one of them. Of all the excitement I’ve ever chased, this has to be the biggest high of them all.”
Shaina - A Super Star!
Shaina was born premature, at 29 weeks. The first year was a struggle. She was not meeting the expected benchmarks. She had trouble sitting up, standing and finding enough balance to walk. During that year, it became clear that something was wrong. After months of testing, Shaina was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP), a condition that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way).
“It was a scary time for us” says Shermin, Shaina’s mother. As first time parents, they were overwhelmed with sadness, uncertain how they could help Shaina, and fearful for her future. On their first visit to SHARE, Shaina met Hannah, a Physiotherapist in SHARE’s Early Intervention Team who would remain Shaina’s therapist throughout her young years. Read more