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Joy and the Paint BrushHer name at birth was Yi-Ting Yu, but if you met her you would understand why her parents chose “Joy” as her English name. There was no option, really. When you first meet her, you immediately know that you won’t forget her. Gregarious and outspoken, she is full of life, naïvete and laughter. Like every student that comes on Hero Holiday, she has a story, and like every student that returns home from the experience, she is never the same.Joy’s family is Chinese, having immigrated to Canada when she was a young child, and settled in Richmond, BC. As she began to grow older, the cultural divide began to spread between the world she wanted to be in and the one in her home. Feeling that her two “lives” couldn’t connect, Joy began to withdraw from her parents and home life, creating a further disconnection between her and her parents. As she entered high school, like so many before her, Joy began to wrestle with who she wanted to be, falling short on both sides and within a short period of time she began to roam the streets of Richmond late at night with a group of friends out looking for violence, and out to steal. Pain and confusion can be difficult for any of us, but when your home life is unstable, when you feel like you don’t know where you belong, and when you are driven for acceptance, it is difficult to find your anchor.But Joy wasn’t forgotten, nor was she unwanted. Leslie Dell, a student advisor and leadership teacher at her school, was working hard to help the students in their school to change the core of their school. Slowly, the students that she worked with began to draw Joy out of the dangerous choices she was making and involve her in their initiatives. As she entered her Grade 11 year, Joy was now a member of the leadership core, active on sports teams, sitting on the student council, and involved in influencing her student body for change. She was beginning to find her place and understanding her value. In September of 2007, Joy and the rest of their school’s leadership core sat in an auditorium, experience an LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) presentation, and heard about Hero Holiday for the first time. She knew that this was something she wanted to do; something that she needed to do.Joy began to fundraise to go to Dominican Republic with Hero Holiday. Sometimes working 2 or 3 jobs at a time, she slowly pulled the money together. Although her family still refused to support or help her in her efforts, she managed to raise enough to join her school group on Hero Holiday in July of 2008. Her life was never the same from that experience.Agua Negra“Going there was the best decision I ever made. I believe in everything that we do there and I only come back home to realize that I haven’t done enough and I will always need to do more for others. I can’t be the selfish person I once was. It changed my life because I see the world with a different perspective and I approach life with new aspects.I always ask myself what can I do to better the lives of the people around me, and what can I do to reach out to the people who don’t understand. I want to live my life to the fullest and seize every moment in the day because life is too short to hold grudges and hold out on dreams. I want to do everything now because I have it so good and so easy. We complain and complain about nothing. We say we need things that we only want. I need to see change, I want to be an influence for change, and I am making a difference.”Joy's TeamI wonder how many “Joys” there are in the world? How many youth get overlooked because they are acting out, seem unstable, or simply because they don’t have the courage to speak up and ask for help? Who will be their voice, will seek them out, or will give them the faith to believe that things can change?In LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), our mission is to deposit hope and purpose in each life that we work with. Hope is what gives us the ability to change and it is what gives us the ability to hang on when life lashes out at us. Pain can blind us, isolate us and lie to us about our worth. But hope is what frees us to dream, to believe, and to reach out. Through our ThinkDay programs in schools, we work with schools to hold out hope to their students – the hope to hang on and to realize that they can see past where they find themselves.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 8th, 2009