Imagine living paycheque to paycheque. We don’t talk about it, but almost everyone knows someone living in a precarious situation. Always walking a tightrope trying to ensure the basics are taken care of, while still making sure the children “fit in” at school.
Everybody knows someone who can use a helping hand like the one offered by Sun Youth, but for some people, there remains a stigma about receiving charity. This assumption is something that Lisa Levy doesn’t subscribe to, because she has benefitted from that help.
“I would not be who I am if Sun Youth and its phenomenal, dedicated staff had not been behind me pushing me to find my purpose, passion, and joy in life,” said Levy, who believes her career as a special education counsellor was inspired by her time at Sun Youth’s former overnight camp in the Laurentians.
Lisa’s first experiences there were as a camper in the 1980s when she was eight years old and going through a difficult time: her parents were struggling with mental health issues and income instability. Sun Youth was providing food assistance to her family, something that she always remembers.
“It was really the ray of sunshine in our home that brought us fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh yogurt, not having to deal with that empty fridge and allowing my parents to put funds towards things like electricity, clothing, and housing costs,” she said.
“It allowed me to learn a lot of the skills that I use today. I work in education and intervention, and it allowed me to see that everybody goes through these situations and how to build resilience,”
– Lisa-Melanie Kaluza Levy
Former recipient of food-aid
Current volunteer & parent
Levy also learned that difficult times don’t have to be permanent and asking for help from an organization like Sun Youth is the first step to breaking free from a dire situation.
“It just opened my eyes that this is not a permanent condition. This is temporary. This is one chapter, and what the next chapter holds is really up to you and what you take from this experience.”
Levy is an example of the many people who have been helped by Sun Youth who go on to help the organization later in their lives. She believes that this wraparound cycle of receiving aid and being provided with opportunities to give back is the key to breaking the cycle of intergenerational struggles.
“I think for me a big part of breaking this stigma of having access to services is this sense you can go from being helped to being the helper,” said Levy.
Today, the successful 41-year-old counsellor volunteers at Sun Youth with her 11-year-old son Zachary whenever she can, and she wants to play her part in helping the next generation be better than the one before.
“Although he himself didn’t experience the same factors as I did, I want him to meet his co-Montrealers who are in that circumstance. I want him to see his role in providing solutions for persons who might require more support which is really important.”
Zachary also plays football and hockey as part of Sun Youth’s many sports and recreation programs which have been at the core of the organization’s mission for generations. When Sid Stevens and the late Earl De La Perralle founded Sun Youth 67 years ago, its goal was to provide the Montreal youth with access to sports activities while giving back to the community.
Sun Youth is well known for the Christmas baskets it hands out to families during the holiday season. However, the organization also provides emergency food assistance all year round. Lesser known are its other assistance programs like those that help people with heating and medical bills and providing emergency services for victims of fire, flood, and other disasters.
“A helping hand is just here on Park Avenue,” said Levy. “Don’t be shy. A lot of people are afraid of asking for help because they’re afraid of how they’re going to be treated,” she said. “Sun Youth’s staff are friendly and compassionate. There are no questions; it’s immediate assistance.”
Read Lisa-Melanie’s story