By Debra Downey, Senior Editor
The impact the Routes Youth Centre has had on TJ Graham’s life is pretty simple.
He’s the person he is today because of the guidance, camaraderie and positive role models he discovered at the centre seven years ago.
“Routes has let me know that I am better than I think I am, and I can do anything if I put my mind to it,” said TJ.
“Routes has made me more confident and outgoing. It has made me the man I am and the man I want to be.”
Routes is a drop-in and counselling program that provides intervention, education and prevention for marginalized and at-risk in youth in the community. The goal is to help young people find socially productive and satisfying “routes” to pursue in their lives.
TJ was introduced to Routes through a friend, but quickly found his own niche.
“Everyone was very welcoming,” said TJ of his first visit. “When I came, I didn’t know anybody, but everyone was so friendly that I came back the next week by myself.”
At a towering six feet five inches, TJ is one of Routes’ volunteers extraordinaire. He has lent his brawn to outreach programs like fall rake-a-thons, scrap metal drives and fundraising corn roasts. Through Routes’ Civic Leadership Program, TJ has also been involved in the 30-Hour Famine and the Homework Club, and often plays basketball with younger teens during a program called Jive, which provides the opportunity for physical activity while having fun with peers, Routes staff and volunteers.
TJ is generally involved in Routes programming three times a week. Along with the Friday night drop-in, he enjoys Boys Night Out, when the centre’s young men get together with male staff for a movie and munchies. Topics of the films often generate a discussion on issues pertaining to the youths’ lives.
During Dinner and Discussion, youth are encouraged to discuss world events and issues.
TJ said his favourite aspect of “D and D” are the topics that are addressed, things like poverty, euthanasia and bullying.
TJ is a graduate of St. Mary Catholic Secondary School and is biding his time working at a fast-food restaurant before getting the okay to join the army.
TJ’s “end goal” is to become a police officer.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” he said.
The Routes Youth Centre is financially supported almost entirely on donations. Its major annual fundraiser is a dinner and silent auction that takes place this year on Friday, Feb. 22 at the Dundas Lions Memorial Community Centre, 10 Market St. The theme for the evening is Daring to Dream. Doors open at 6 p.m. A brief update of Routes and its 2012 successes will follow dinner.
The 2012 guest speaker, Pigskin Pete, also known as Dan Black, held a spell-bound audience captivated as he spoke about the challenging circumstances early in his life.
“I wish there had been a place like Routes Youth Centre when I was a youth,” he said. “My life might have been different.”
Along with Jive, Dinner and Discussion, Boys Night Out and the Friday night drop-in, Routes also offers an after-school program for youth wanting to study and get help on school assignments, Girls Night Out for the ladies only and Kids Talk, designed for younger kids to discuss relevant issues in their lives.
Tickets for the banquet are $50 per person. Call 905-627-4334 or 905-929-0572. For more information, visit www.routesyouthcentre.ca