Army Private gives back to youth shelter

Article / December 8, 2016 / Project number: 16-0334

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Borden, Ontario — A newly-minted Canadian Army private and alumnus of Toronto’s Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth, took part in a fundraiser for the organization on November 17, 2016. He says the shelter helped put him back on a positive path.

Private Dat Vu, 21, was sworn in as a member of the Canadian Army (CA) less than a year ago but he already thinks of it as family.

“It’s like another family that you get to keep close to you and that you can talk to,” said Pte Vu, who is currently stationed at Canadian Forces Base Borden, where he will soon begin vehicle tech training at the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (RCEME) school.

Pte Vu’s path to his second home in the CA was a bumpy one: uncertainty about his career goals led him astray in his early high school years, causing friction between him and his mother.

After completing his Grade 10 studies, Pte Vu was packed off to a private military academy. While he found the highly-disciplined environment to be problematic initially, the experience was the start of a course correction.

“I went there for a year,” he recalled. “Don’t get me wrong, the first few weeks I didn’t like it but at the end of the day, I found my discipline and I got my life together. That’s when I said, ‘You know what? I don’t mind this life.’ And that’s when I developed an interest in the Canadian Forces. I went back to a regular high school for Grade 12 and I behaved, I got my stuff together, and I stopped hanging around with the wrong crowd of kids.”

After graduation, Pte Vu, a Toronto native, still wasn’t 100 per cent convinced a military career was the way to go, leading to more friction at home.

“I kept having second thoughts. So I decided to get a full-time job and my mom didn’t like that; she wanted me to go to school. So we got onto an argument, my mom kicked me out, and that’s when I went to Covenant House.”

At Covenant House Toronto, a shelter and support agency for homeless youth, Pte Vu was given another opportunity to reassess his goals. Covenant House’s Toronto shelter is one of many across North America.

“The first couple of weeks I gave them a hard time because I didn’t know what to do with my life and I was freaking out. Afterwards I just calmed down and I decided to take advantage of programs that they offered. They had a sports program, you can get your food handler’s certification, learn how to cook. The staff was great.”

Pte Vu was back at Covenant House Toronto on November 17, 2016 for its annual Sleep Out: Executive Edition event, a fundraiser during which community and business leaders spend a night outdoors to get a glimpse of life through the eyes of homeless youth.

Inviting alumni like Pte Vu back to Covenant House for the event is a way to showcase the impact of its work for donors, said Christine Foisy-Monk, Associate Director, Development at Covenant House.

“It’s very powerful, really eye-opening for them,” she said. “The alumni talk about how their lives are now and how without Covenant House, they wouldn’t be where they are.”

For his part, Pte Vu said he welcomed the opportunity to show donors that Covenant House made a major difference in his life.

“My message is that you’re actually helping those kids who are willing to make the effort to leave this place and get a career,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing because you’re actually changing peoples’ lives. My message to the kids at Covenant House is, get your life together and stop doing the bad things. Those aren’t going to get you anywhere.”

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