A ball of energy with nowhere to go – that’s how 25-year-old Verdann describes her younger self.

Throughout her childhoVerdannod, her unstable home life sent her bouncing from household to household, and city to city. By the time she was 17, Verdann had been couch surfing and sleeping on the street for years.

Then a pogo stick changed her life. Through United Way’s network of services, Verdann joined an after-school program that works with vulnerable youth, many of whom are Indigenous just like her. “There was just something so awesome about jumping on that pogo stick – to learn a new skill and master it,” recalls Verdann.

As her confidence increased, Verdann got involved as a youth coordinator. She believes her tumultuous upbringing helps her excel at her job, because she has deep empathy for the children and youth she works with. “I can understand where they’re coming from and why they’re acting the way they are,” she says. “Many of these young people have nowhere to go during that crucial time after school and before dinner. They’re often going to find something to do, and it may not be healthy or safe. I know this from experience.” She’s also become a community role model – something she says she never had growing up. “I think it’s positive for kids of all backgrounds to look up to an Indigenous person. Diverse role models are really important.”

Watch Verdann’s story.