Growing up isn’t easy. We all need a sense of belonging, support, and connectedness to our roots in order to become all that we can be.

Distant Thunder knows what it’s like to grapple with your identity. Growing up in the foster-care system as an Aboriginal boy in a

predominantly white community, he struggled to fit in. “Kids teased me,” he says. “I was different.”

But, he also knows what it’s like to lose your identity altogether. As an adult, working in the fast-paced hospitality industry, Distant began using drugs and alcohol to cope with work demands. An addiction that increasingly controlled his life.

“I remember finally looking in the mirror and asking myself if this was really how I was going to live the rest of my life,” he recalls. For this reason, he turned to a United Way community agency for help.

Fortunately, he was able to access the support he needed through focusing on Aboriginal healing traditions to deal with his addiction and recover emotionally, physically, and spiritually and start on the path to finding meaningful employment once again.

“The program immerses you in Aboriginal culture, from floor to ceiling,” says Distant. And, while confronting his addiction, he welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with his roots, through ceremonies, art, music and traditions. “There’s no judgment,” he adds. “I can share my struggles with people who have had similar experiences. I don’t have to hide anything here.”

Today, Distant is on the path to a better life because of your gift—one defined by clarity. He’s confident in who he is: “I’m Aboriginal,” he says. “I now feel a great sense of pride saying that.”