For as long as parents have been raising teenagers, a great divide has existed. Adults lecture, teens roll their eyes. Adults punish, teenagers rebel. As a culture, we like to write off teenagers as a disrespectful, idle demographic with little to contribute to society until they hit the magic age of 18, at which point we expectthem to become contributing members.
Arianna Johnson is perhaps Fort McMurray’s best example of an exception to this rule. When Johnson speaks, teenagers listen. In part, it’s because Johnson has been there herself, a former street kid who has worked hard to overcome her troubled past and has realized amazing success in the Fort McMurray notfor-profit world. But it’s also because Johnson cares about kids, and it shows.
“Throughout history, there have been ‘troubled’ or ‘at-risk’ youth, but only in recent history have we written them off,” Johnson says. “History is filled with rebels and troublemakers who eventually became the smartest, the best and brightest, because someone along their road of life took an interest.”
Johnson’s idyllic childhood veered off-track in her early teens, when she became mixed up with the wrong group of friends. By 16, the former competitive swimmer and seniors’ home volunteer was a high-school dropout, addicted to drugs and living on the street. If it weren’t for a few adults who saw past the troubled teen to the potential that lay beyond, Johnson’s life would have followed a much different path, she says.
“There were so many,” Johnson says, citing her parents, an inspirational junior high teacher, and her maternal grandmother as adults who helped her get her life back on track. “All of these people inspired, drove and mentored me to be a better person and make the lives of those I touched better every day.”
Johnson has taken that advice to heart. Over the years, she has completed a university degree, worked for numerous youth organizations including McMan Centre, Child and Family Services, and Stepping Stones Youth Home, and has volunteered for countless other organizations and events. Today, Johnson is the executive director of the Fort McMurray Food Bank, but she still remains actively committed to supporting youth in the community.
“I would challenge every adult to look around, find a youth and choose to see something in them other than the trouble they may be causing. Look beyond that to the person they could be,” Johnson urges. “When I think of the youth I have worked with, I have a desire to do more for more of them, and I have a desire for the world to own raising the children, even if they’re not yours”