The legacy of one young man

By Theresa Wells

There is nothing more tragic than losing a family member – but I suspect this is especially hard when the family member is young, the death is unexpected, and the family is left reeling when tragedy strikes. This happened in 2004 to a family I have come to respect, and frankly adore, when one of their young family members was killed on Highway 63.

Justin Slade was just 21 years old, and from everything I have heard and learned he was a remarkable young man. After having the honour of getting to know some of his family members over the last two years I imagine he was much like them – fun-loving, with a wonderfully lively spirit, but with a deep-rooted commitment to helping others. The tragic loss of a young person like this is a tremendous one for his family, but in the end it is a terrible loss for us all because it is in youth like Justin that we see the future. The future of our community resides in the hands of the young men and women like him – but for Justin that future would never arrive, stripped away from him, his family, and all of us in 2004.

It is undoubtedly difficult to recover from a loss like this. Many families break apart, shattering into a thousand pieces as they try to comprehend a world without their loved one in it. Many families struggle for years to cope, and to make sense of a tragedy that will never make sense. And some families, like the family of Justin Slade, take a tragic loss and turn it into something that honours his memory and legacy in a profound way. They find a way to take this kind of loss, and all the pain in their hearts, and use it to heal the hearts and minds of others. In the case of Justin Slade they founded the Justin Slade Youth Foundation, an organization that captured my heart and mind the moment I learned of it.

The Justin Slade Youth Foundation – or JSYF – is all about youth. It is particularly about reaching out to youth in our community, and giving them the opportunity to connect with resources they may otherwise not be able to access – resources in areas like sport, art, and more. Their mission? To empower young people to make better life choices and to express themselves in positive ways through music, drama, art and sports. And yet I think they do so much more, too. They give hope – and in so doing they change lives.

Youth are our most precious resource. I would defy anyone to argue with me on this point, as I will defend it to my last breath. Perhaps some think of oil as our most precious resource, or other mineral wealth. Perhaps some think credentialed professionals are our most precious resource. But I would argue that the most precious resource in any community – in this world – is the potential of our young people. Perhaps it sounds like a terrible cliché, but as with most clichés it is founded on truth: youth are our future. They are our future leaders, and our future voters. They will be the ones to carry on when we are gone, and they are the ones who will decide the future of this community. They have value beyond words and estimation, and perhaps that is why I am so passionate about ensuring that all youth, especially youth at risk, have the opportunity to expand their world and achieve their true potential. It is, I suppose, the real reason I do everything I do – because I too have a daughter.

And this is why I am so smitten with those who work with the Justin Slade Youth Foundation, and all who support it. This past weekend I had the distinct privilege of attending the Justin Slade Youth Foundation Golf Tournament Banquet. I was there to witness the helicopter golf ball drop, the live auction, and all the other events that led to the JSYF raising $100,000 to continue the amazing work they do. But I witnessed something far more meaningful, too, something that struck me deep in my heart. I witnessed a family honouring the legacy of a young man gone far too soon by taking his tragic loss and channeling all their energy and passion into changing lives for the better. I was, quite frankly, humbled.

I have been fortunate in my life. I have lost family members, but none so young and tragically as Justin. I have not suffered that kind of pain, but this past weekend I witnessed a display of grace, courage, and dignity centred on the tragic and unexpected loss of a beloved young man. Nothing will ever replace Justin for his family, his friends, and frankly for all of us in this community who lost his potential and the future good he could do when he died – but the Justin Slade Youth Foundation is giving other youth that future and potential every single day. Justin’s name is now synonymous in this community with youth, potential, hope, and the future – and I cannot imagine a better legacy or memorial.

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