Staff Interview: Kadee – Relentless support to bring out a youth’s uniquely beautiful spark

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Kadee Smedley, our Lead Spiritual Care Practitioner and Ombudsperson. Kadee has been working at Covenant House Vancouver since 2019. In this interview, we talk about the idea of “relentless support”, the details of how spiritual care at CHV works, and about the unique spark of every young person.

What would you tell other people about the youth that call Covenant House Vancouver home?

The young people we work with are amazing! They are funny and incredibly resilient. They are eager to live life. And they do so despite the fact that life had been profoundly unkind to them by the time they come to our doors. They’ve experienced trauma of some kind and, as we sit with these youth and work with them, it can be heartbreaking. But, again, the youth are resilient and inspiring. It’s a privilege to bear witness to that resilience and strength in the work we do.

So Kadee, one of CHV’s mottos is to provide “relentless support”, what does this mean to you?

To me, “relentless support” means recognizing that our youth have a million reasons not to trust us. They’ve been let down many times in the past: by the support that had been offered to them, by their families, by their communities, and by individuals who should’ve cared for them. So, when they get to us; we do the opposite. We provide them with safety and stability. And we do so knowing that there will be ups and downs in their sense of trust towards us. They will test us to see if we really care. And we know that we need to keep supporting them anyways. They have great reasons not to trust adults in their lives; we know that. And we know that it’s our job to earn their trust and to do right by them.

Regardless of life experience or identity, CHV aims to serve all youth without judgment. How does that relate to your role?

As a Spiritual Care Practitioner, I serve youth of all faith backgrounds and none. My goal is to help them to find life and nourishment in their spirituality without judgment or preference for one tradition or another. Sadly, a lot of our youth end up at Covenant House because their spiritual or religious communities have impacted their safety. When I say that, I mean in particular our LGBTQ2S+ youth. So, part of my role is just reassuring them that they’re in a safe space – not just generally, but also in terms of exploring their spirituality with me.

Spiritual supports at Covenant House Vancouver exist along a spectrum – from tangible supports like prayer rugs, sacred texts, or medicines that the youth request; to one-on-one spiritual care sessions with me, or referrals to local faith or cultural communities. Sometimes it looks like grief counseling or officiating a memorial service (which, unfortunately, during the Opioid Crisis, is not exactly unexpected, but it’s incredibly difficult for the youth and for the staff).

I want to point out that each individual youth decides if they want spiritual care in their time at Covenant House. It’s never imposed on or expected of them. It’s totally their choice if my work is part of their support plan.

How do you help youth find meaning or purpose? And why is that so important?

To be honest, it’s miraculous to me sometimes that our youth haven’t completely lost their sense of purpose given what life demanded of them. But I will say that when they start to lose it, it comes from their community around them breaking down, from external factors like war, colonization, systemic racism, etc.; or through things like abuse, abandonment, or violence. Many of us find our purpose by locating ourselves in our community – What’s our place? And what’s our role? So, it’s incredibly disorienting when that community breaks down and we can’t find our place. When you’ve experienced that, it raises very big questions – Why am I here? What’s the point of life? And those are scary questions to navigate on your own.

That’s a role that I take on, to help them navigate those big questions and to answer them. But this time, in a new community and with a new future in mind.

Every youth is different, but a lot of my work is supporting youth to reflect on the kind of life they want to live, the kind of person they want to be, and the kind of world they want to be a part of. This work involves supporting them to pay attention to what gives them life, what gives them meaning, and what gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s not necessarily anything crazy; sometimes it’s just the beauty of nature or a good talk with a friend. But the work for the youth is to pay attention to what gives them life and to try to increase that.

I love working with the young people. I love hearing them make sense of this world and their own lives. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to journey with these youth and see them as they are. Every youth is unique. Every youth has that spark in them, and so much of their life has been dousing that spark with pain. So, to be part of the uncovering of that spark again…it’s just such a source of joy and encouragement to me. I feel so thankful to work at Covenant House and to work with these youth.