A best friend of mine brought me by the Gathering Place for the first time on a Friday after high school. This was in 2002, I believe. ‘Just a pit stop’ he said. Just one lingering, long-ass pit stop it turned out, because we stayed, the each of us, for years, making friends, making a second home, and in that process joining the Peer Helping Program.
I found some difficulty in joining, prevented by my teenage anxiety from pushing myself too hard. I was intimidated, I suppose, frightened of other teenagers and their opinions, or maybe I just wanted to stay home and play Legend Of Dragoon. Either way, I avoided a social commitment like the plague.
I struggle to remember now exactly what got me to bite on the program. It was probably that my older brother was in it, which was comforting. Probably that I got along with the staff and that a few of my friends were in it, as well. For me – personally, mentally – it meant facing some social fears and adversity in having to come out of my shell a little. It was enormously cultivating to do so, providing me more confidence and leaving me buoyant in previously rough water.
People often cite elementary school, or high school, or just the intimacy of Gabriola itself as to why and how they met and kept their lifelong friends. And it is true, all of those contributed to the friendships I made. But I don’t know that anything contributed as wholly as the Peer Helping Program.
I took the program during very formative years, and to spend that much condensed time with friends brought us all inseparably close. Most telling, I guess, is that my roommate right now is a friend I made at the Gathering Place; my friends I go visit in Victoria are ones I made at the Gathering Place; when I took a trip this winter up to Manning Park it wasn’t to ski, it was to huddle up in the warmth of the cottages with my good friend, who I had met at the Gathering Place.
There’s a motif I’m trying to illustrate. The program did more than offer me skills to help others, it gave me a support net that could help me when I was down. It gave me friends for then and forever.
On a practical level, probably the most important aspect of Teen Peer Helping was learning how to slow down and listen. Teenage minds are moving so damn fast, everything is heightened, so cool, so gross, I was so mad! I learned to take a moment and slow everything down, look at the person across from you and actually listen, not try to impress your own thoughts and ideas on the conversation. Lend them genuine ears, so to speak. Part of me feels like I was a better listener as a teenager, actually, and I think it’s because I was actively learning how.
Stay tuned - Conor’s story will conclude in two weeks.
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