At just 13 years old, Shawn was recruited to an infamous street gang by his mother’s friends. For two years, they beat him to groom him for a life of violence. “They wanted to toughen me up. They wanted a soldier,” he explains.
Shawn became a notorious gang member in his town for a few years. He was deeply involved in gang life and became known for recruiting new members.
Then one day, Shawn was suddenly consumed with panic and broke down. “Everything spiraled backwards,” he shares. He realized he desperately needed to find a way out.
Growing up, Shawn spent few days without violence in his home. He suffered harsh discipline at the hands of his mother and the other adults that passed through his house. He also frequently witnessed his step-father beat his mother.
Danger and chaos were a constant in Shawn’s young life. “I grew up around the gang my whole life. I saw my first gun at eight. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” he recalls.
While he was heavily involved in gang life, Shawn became a father to a little girl. His daughter bore a strong resemblance to him. “She’s like my little twin,” he says beaming. He would sing to her and speak some Anishinabe to share his Indigenous roots with her.
On the day that Shawn realized he could not continue his life without change, he first thought of Covenant House. He phoned us, and staff assured him they would save him a bed. He quickly packed his bags and hopped on the first bus to Toronto.
Here, Shawn arrived determined to find a new path. When he found out about our culinary arts program, Cooking for Life, which prepares youth for a career in hospitality, he decided to apply. He had no cooking experience at all, but he learned quickly. “I was the worst guy in the kitchen, but a couple of weeks in, I had skills I never knew I had. I just kept pushing.”
Shawn’s striking charm and lively spirit captivated the staff and youth. His work placement was at a trendy restaurant where he needed to engage with customers. “I like doing something good for the community. Everybody needs to eat and feeding people makes me happy. It’s changed me,” he shares.
“I am most grateful for the support at Covenant House. You have opened the door for me,” Shawn shares thoughtfully. “The staff here are the most supportive people in my life.”
Today, Shawn’s focus is on being a good father to his daughter and helping to support her mother. “I have to be better. I’ve got to be a role model for my little girl.