Despite the fear and chaos ensuing around the manhunt for two teenage fugitives, a youth worker reminds us that two scared teenagers and many others like them require thought and help during this time.
Danny Ferguson didn't realize the reaction he would receive when he made an online post about his own thoughts and feelings in response to the recent British Columbia murders.
"Over the past week, news of these teenagers actions have hit centre stage here in Canada. Their choices led them to inflicting [sic] violence upon others. There are families mourning the loss of their loved ones. An unimaginable pain which is devastating and feels so unfair," wrote the area director for Langley's Youth Unlimited.
"As I sit and ponder this. I look at the faces of these boys and although I don’t know them, they are familiar to me in the sense that youth like these are the reason I have dedicated so much of my life to working with young people with Youth Unlimited."
Pursuing youth ministry
Ferguson himself is a walking testimony to the wonders of focused investment in the life of a youth. During some of the most difficult times in his teens, he found himself supported and cared for by youth workers
"I was quite lonely and dark and depressed when I was young, 17 [years old]," shared Ferguson. "I went through a series of suicidal episodes, and there were some youth workers that were involved in my life at that time that really helped me and saved me from myself and believed in me when I didn't believe in myself."
A few years later, as Ferguson was trying to decide what course his life would take, his brother was killed in a car accident.
Having lived in a small community, Ferguson volunteered to assist in efforts of commemorating his brother's life, which led him down the road to becoming a youth worker, a job he has carried on with ever since.
"My faith has been so critical," shared the youth worker. "I do this because I see an example of Jesus reaching out to the lost and the poor and the broken and those on the fringes of society ... he's always constantly valuing people that would normally be rejected by society and a lot of times that is, unfortunately, the young people that I work with.
"They need a little touch of love and of Christ in their life."
Youth from the ages of 10 to 24 years frequent Youth Unlimited, coming from all areas and walks of life. "What we look for is those that might be suffering from some sort of poverty, and we look at that not just in the physical sense but physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually," Ferguson explained.
Those gaps where kids are missing connections in their lives present opportunities where Ferguson and Youth Unlimited step in. It's not those kids that already have good mentors and connections in their lives that need a youth worker, but those who are struggling.
Ferguson says, "[Those] are the relationships that we invest the most time in."
The needs can be small, ranging from homework help to a friend to go to the movies with or more catastrophic for those who may need support as they navigate a run-in with the law or deal with the death of a loved one. "They just need someone that they know they can rely on, no matter what it is that they're going through," Ferguson shared.
Youth Unlimited exists to provide that someone to kids. Ferguson says that the organization remains committed to "connecting youth with life," and uses various approaches to ensure they are able to meet the kids they interact with daily "where they're at."
As part of Youth Unlimited, Ferguson has also had an opportunity to partner with RCMP in Langley, BC as part of the Violent Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA).
The VTRA was formed following the Columbine High School Shooting in 2019 in order for RCMP to better address the needs of individuals who might participate in violent acts. Ferguson's experience has allowed him to bring a youth-centred perspective.
"It's sobering," Ferguson said. "We always say that 'we see the hope and potential in every young person,' and so all of these dark things that are happening are really just opportunities for us to step into the places where they need the most help.
"It's discouraging in some ways that hard things are happening, but it's encouraging to be on the front lines and involved in their lives on a day-to-day basis to help prevent those atrocities from happening."
In the case of Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmelgelsky, two teens believed connected to three murders that took place in BC during the month of July, Ferguson says he's heartbroken to the circumstances of all aspects of the case.
"It's devastating to the families that are involved for the victims ... and I was just heartbroken for the victims," he said. "I don't know them, personally but I do know that there has [sic] been lots of young people that I have worked with that have been like them that seem like just normal kids until one day, they snap."
The hope is to connect with kids like McLeod and Schmelgelsky before those moments.
"That's the big question for everyone," posed Ferguson: "Where would you be if there wasn't a positive adult that spoke into your life."
Like in his own life, Ferguson has been able to act as that positive role model for kids in the Langley and Greater Vancouver area, assisting teens in receiving counselling and building relationships to lessen the loss of children through the system.
"I just want to re-invest into the community that I'm involved in and to love those that are around me."
A feeling of helplessness, however, is what Ferguson says drove him to write of his heartbreak for Canada as the country searches for the two teens. His words have gone beyond a simple outlet, however, with almost three hundred reactions on Ferguson's original post and numerous shares. Its powerful message addresses Ferguson's passion and spreads thoughts to ponder as Canadians grapple with the situation.
"We need to really invest in the preventative aspects of youth work," Ferguson said. "Lots of times it can seem like youth workers are just playing video games or playing sports."
The youth worker shared that he has been confronted on numerous occasions, asked when he plans to pursue 'a real job.'
Simply put, "It is a real job. It's something that's pretty desperately needed, actually," continued Ferguson, "because you don't know at any given time ... when are they [a child] going to stop and say something that's really significant that you can respond to."