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River Michalchuk

Student
Arts + Social Sciences › Criminology
Volunteer
Initiative
Position Title
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After months of looking for somewhere to gain some relevant experience as a criminology major, someone recommended Elizabeth Fry to me. I started volunteering a year ago and I haven’t looked back since. Elizabeth Fry is a charitable organization that supports women, girls and children involved in or affected by the criminal justice system. I work mostly with youth and I do a cooking program with them every week. Working in this environment can be very mentally and emotionally taxing, but I think it all goes down to your attitude and how you approach the situation.

I’ve had the privilege to hear some amazing life stories and it’s so heartbreaking to hear what the kids have had to go through at such a young age. One of the most rewarding, yet heartbreaking experiences I’ve had was when I had a conversation with one girl and she told me [everything that] she had gone through. After our conversation, I just felt inclined to tell her how beautiful and amazing she was. I told her that even though I cannot possibly imagine how hard it is, she would make it through and there was more out there for her. At the end of the night, she came to me again and said, “No one has ever told me that I’m beautiful or amazing before, and the words that you told me today are going to stick with me for the rest of my life!”

That’s when I realized how powerful words can be, especially to vulnerable children that need positive input in their lives. I’ve learnt that we can be so judgmental as people and we need to start trying to understand peoples circumstances before making conclusions. When you see incarcerated youth, it’s easy to think “Oh! Bad kids.” But no. They’re just kids that have hopes and dreams for the future (just like you and me), but they didn’t have the chance or they made a mistake. We all make mistakes. The difference is that we make different mistakes or some of us are simply not caught. Volunteering has definitely humbled me a lot and I hope this inspires you as well.

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