In Ethan’s childhood home, it was as if all his family members fought for centre stage as they played out their struggles. He needed to grow up quickly to meet the high emotional needs, but there was no room for his own.
Ethan’s father had a violent temper and would throw furniture in sudden fits of rage. After his parents divorced, his mother became deeply depressed and would weep loudly along to sad country music. An older sister who was withdrawn and anxious and a younger sister who acted out aggressively mirrored their parents’ temperaments. The pain they were all feeling left them unable to give him the love and support he needed.
Gentle and warm-hearted, Ethan felt responsible for his mother’s well-being. He worried she was suicidal, and he was afraid to leave her alone. He began to have panic attacks at school. His mother would ask him to advise and guide his sisters, who both caused her tension and concern.
“My mom needed me to be strong, because she wasn’t able to be,” Ethan explains. The pressure on him was too great for him to cope. It was not long before he dropped out of school. He started to have trouble focusing at school and his grades slipped. “I just didn’t see the point,” he recalls. “It felt like nobody understood. Nobody was going through what I was going through.”
Shortly afterwards, Ethan saw an ad for Covenant House in the newspaper. He secretly clipped it out and held onto it for a time, wondering if this was the solution for him. On the ad, it mentioned that we have a shelter, an onsite school and a job program. He was hopeful that we might be able to give him a chance to get back to school and find his own way.
At Covenant House, Ethan forged deep friendships with several of the other youth. “There were kids from all walks of life—just really interesting people. My friends had such profound stories of hardship, it put my life into perspective,” he shares. “I had brothers here.” Here, youth eat together at meal times and Ethan realized that was something his family never did. The staff also cared about him unconditionally. He appreciated the guidance and understanding from these adults who required no loyalty, gave no guilt trips or made no inappropriate emotional demands. To Ethan, this place felt more like home than home.
While staying with us, Ethan got some experience working in security. He moved into our longer-term transitional residence, Rights of Passage. He moved into his own place with another Covenant House resident he grew close to, while he continued to work his way up in security. He later completed some sociology courses at a university bridging program. He also improved his relationships with both his parents and sisters. But he still felt lost professionally. He wanted something more.
Then one day, he saw another life-changing ad from Covenant House, but this time, it was a job posting. We were hiring a Community Liaison, our name for individuals who supervise our kids outside our facility to ensure they are safe and remembering to be considerate to neighbours and pedestrians. It required someone with his experience who had a deep understanding, patience and respect for our kids. We were looking for him.
“I saw the Community Liaison position online and applied and bought a suit – the first suit in my entire life. They could see I really wanted this job,” Ethan recalls with pride. “It’s like I was designed for a job like this. Everyone goes out of their way to make me feel welcome, like a big family. It feels like home.”