When I first started working in Community Support Services which includes our Drop-In Centre and Outreach programs, I noticed there was a quiet young woman who was a regular at the Drop-In who usually kept to herself. I introduced myself to her and she told me her name was Melissa.
Over the span of several months, I slowly got to know Melissa by doing activities with her like colouring, puzzles, playing games, and just having casual conversations. One day, Melissa opened up to me about her mom. She told me what she was like, and that she had passed away a few years ago. Melissa told me that she had no photos of her mom to remember her by and I could tell that this bothered her a lot.
A few weeks later, Melissa mentioned to me that her mom had been part of a project in the Downtown Eastside called Hope in the Shadows. This is a photography contest that began in 2003 hosted by Megaphone Magazine. Hope in the Shadows is an opportunity for residents of the Downtown Eastside to show the rest of Vancouver how they would like people to see the Downtown Eastside. Participants are given single-use cameras to capture images of their communities for a chance to be featured in the annual Hope in the Shadows calendar.
The name of this project sounded very familiar to me, and I realized that years ago I had obtained a copy of the Hope in the Shadows photojournalism collection. Later that day, I went home and looked through my bookcase. Sure enough, I found the Hope in the Shadows book and rapidly started flipping through it looking for a matching last name, or the first name of her mom that Melissa gave me.
Midway through the book, I stopped and saw there she was, a smiling black and white portrait of Melissa’s mom — Melissa is the spitting image of her mom. I was thrilled that I had the correct edition of the book. There were two other photos of her mom that also featured other members of Melissa’s family.
I immediately scanned and printed copies of the photos from the book and brought them to Drop-In the following day. I noticed Melissa in the Drop-In space that day and told her that I had found the book, and inside the book were photos of her mom. I asked her if she wanted to have the photos. She said yes, and I turned them over to her.
Melissa’s expression changed and I could see how meaningful to her it was to be given those photos of her mom smiling and so happy. Melissa thanked me and smiled while clutching her photos.
As youth workers, we must honor our youth’s life stories and their connection to their family members — whether their birth or chosen family. Helping Melissa preserve her memories of her mom was such a joyful experience and I was honoured I could support her in this special way.
*Story shared by a youth worker and young person’s name changed for confidentiality.