Christian Young wants to help people smile.
His work as an Indigenous community mental health worker at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre has been a step on the path he has been on for a long time, he says.
“As my office mate says, I have a gift of humour, I like to see people laugh and I like to see people smile,” he says.
That humour helps in his work, as it makes people more comfortable, and it humanizes him, he says.
“A lot of times when they come here, it’s an intimidating atmosphere, going to see someone to talk about whatever struggles or challenges that you’re experiencing,” he says. “If I’m able to make you laugh, it allows them that I’m a person as well and it eliminates a lot of the intimidation factor, especially when they realize I’m making jokes at mistakes that I make, because I like to laugh at myself.”
Young’s journey to Timmins started when his family moved from Omaha, Nebraska, when he was 12 years old after his mother’s husband was diagnosed with cancer.
“They basically had said you’re going to cap this health insurance, and because you have other children who are on the health insurance, it would make sense for you to go back home to Canada and get medical care,” he says.
That decision to move shaped a lot of his life. They moved to Sarnia, Ont., for the medical treatments and the immigration process started.
He says he is a great example of why the need for volunteer hours in high school can be an important part of planning for the future.
“At the time I had no idea where I was going to do it, and I was trying to scramble in my last year so I ended up volunteering at a soup kitchen,” he says. “I ended up loving it, to the point where I assisted at their Christmas dinner, and they served a couple hundred families, and at that moment I knew I wanted to do something to help somebody.”
Throughout his career, he's seen gaps in cultural awareness and in the ability of some of his colleagues to adapt practices to include cultural practices, like smudging.
“Oftentimes things that would be beneficial or help them move forward in their journeys of healing weren’t necessarily seen as that,” he says. “It was very disappointing because when I approached management and the director at the time about this issue, they cited that it was a fire concern, but they were having church services in the basement with candles, so I was very put off by that.”
After seeing those gaps, he returned to school and expanded his education. He studied Indigenous social work at Laurentian University, committed to supporting the people he wanted to help in the ways that worked for them.
“Something was pulling me to Indigenous social work,” he says.
That was when his wife asked him an important question.
“She came to me and said, my father is getting old, he owns his house in Timmins, it’s only three and a half hours away, and at the time my family had moved up to Sudbury,” he says. “I said sure, and I wanted to make sure she felt like she could support her father in that way.”
He’d been to Timmins a few times prior to the move.
“She was very strategic about when she brought me up,” he says. “She made sure she always brought me up in the summer.”
The trip up to Northern Ontario was amazing for him. He fell in love with the area, and became more and more aware of the issues facing the Indigenous population.
“It cemented my reasons for going into Indigenous social work and I think we have an obligation to help facilitate healing for those who have suffered in the past,” he says. “Sometimes, people, they need something that works for them, not something that’s statistically good for everybody, and when you add in the culture into the mix it makes it more individualized.”
The move to Timmins saw him looking for work and when he saw the opening at the friendship centre, it seemed like a chance to do some good.
“They’re doing some really good things for the community,” he says. “My first day we went out medicine picking, it was just awesome, it was nothing like anything I’d ever experienced before.”
Using his humour, he hopes he can help the people he wants to help heal.
“Timmins, they say, has a heart of gold and the residents have a heart of gold too,” he says. “I think that’s proven by the amount of people in the community who want to make the community a better place.”