1-distant_hi-resDistant 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 a program that helped him deal with his addiction. An Aboriginal life-skills program provided the supports he needed to get clean, including counselling, healthy living and employment workshops. At the same time, it was a window into a world that he had repressed for much of his adult life.

“This 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.”

Stories like these show how United Way is working to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society can get the help they need. And they’re proof of how gifts like yours are creating innovative, local solutions to some of our community’s most complex social issues.

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