When I first sit down with Averee there is a warmth and ease about her as well as an air of reservation. Not that she isn't open or inviting but rather that she doesn’t try to come across as anything that she isn’t. She is who she is. As we start talking and getting into her story I begin to see why this is my first impression of her. Averee is a passionate and fierce woman with an extremely soft and tender heart. She isn’t afraid to throw herself into messy situations when what (or who) is on the line is important to her. Along the way, however, especially in her line of work, she can sometimes be misjudged, and that is one of her biggest fears; for disingenuousness is the opposite of Averee Creighton, and being sincere is one of the key reasons why she is so natural and effective at what she does.
It doesn't take long to sense Averee’s passion for young people. She explains that becoming a youth worker with Youth Unlimited happened very organically, although at one point her life was on a completely different trajectory. She wasn’t really trying to get involved and didn't have some vivid experience of God calling her to full-time ministry. One day, halfway through a Biology Undergrad at UBC, while doing research by herself in a lab, she realized that she wanted her life to be about people and began to reconsider her current pursuits. Investing in relationships with young people has always been natural for Averee, and throughout her teen years she spent a lot of her summers volunteering at camp. Seeing kids encounter God and loving community at camp was a great joy, but she also longed to continue walking with them once they entered the "real world” again. While pursuing her degree she did not cease to build relationship with and mentor young people around her, which is where her role as a youth worker sprouted from: a place where she was already walking in her gifts and using those gifts to love people.
A LESS CLINICAL APPROACH
Youth Unlimited is a non-profit, faith-based organization that uses a holistic and "less clinical" approach to helping young people who are vulnerable. They are about supporting young people in any way needed through the avenue of loving relationship. Averee has been a youth worker with YU (Youth Unlimited) for about two years now, and her title is “Youth Outreach Worker.” "That basically means that I don't work in a drop-in centre waiting for youth to come to me," Averee explains. "I get to go to where they are. Schools, skateparks, and sometimes even their homes." Her work varies a lot depending on the person and their life circumstances, but some of her regular doings include one-on-one mentorship, Mental Health Club, city-wide youth events, running errands, looking for housing, cooking with youth, and even an afterschool program called “Mobile Drop-In” which operates out of a 1982 Winnebago, customized with YU branding. “The branding is so we don’t look like a creepy meth lab,” she laughs. “We play games, we do art, we play guitar, we heat up tea and hot chocolate on the stove. If the weather is nice, we put tables outside and play beanbag toss and giant jenga. Often, kids don’t want to do any activity and we just ask them lots of questions to get to know them. When we go to the alternative school, kids mostly just smoke or vape outside under the awning and chat with us.”
MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE
What really stands out about Averee and her work with youth is how she sees them. Building a relationship where young people feel safe and loved is her aim. Most of the youth she works with have no one on their team rooting for them—which doesn't make these often extremely hard lives any easier. In fact it usually leads to a myriad of problems, which Averee says is one of the toughest parts of her job: watching people make bad decisions, knowing how it will turn out for the worst in the end. Although it can be tough to watch and she always tries her best to protect them from it altogether, she always reassures them that whatever happens she will still be there. This is where the "less clinical" part plays in. Although change and results are great, the goal is for the kids Averee is in relationship with to know that they are valuable and that people not showing up for them isn't because they aren't worth it. Most of the young people she works with are extremely vulnerable, and have a lot of issues emotionally as well as circumstantially. Many struggle with loneliness and severe anxiety. Often these are the kids at school with whom teachers and students are most frustrated. Often they have a bad attitude, can be rude, cheeky and unproductive. But Averee sees right past this to who they really are. To their potential, rather than their problem. She sees their intrinsic worth and value as a human being made in the image of God, and that is exactly what she tries to uncover in every young person she works with. She strives to believe in them and stand as a constant in their life when everything and everyone else around them is chaos. This is an area that Averee can then show how the gospel is good news: how God never leaves and is always with them.
GOD MEETS US EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE
The proclamation of the gospel as good news has been a real wrestle for Averee the past year. She grew up in a Christian home, with a fairly simplistic understanding of the good news of Jesus; He loves us and died for us. However, Averee admits that working with youth whose lives are often in shambles, and where brokenness and hurt abound, has shaken her idea of God and has forced her to ask the question, “How is the gospel good news?" She is out there trying to tell these kids who feel hated, depressed, anxious, and abandoned, that God loves them and is for them. That He died for them. But what does that mean? If the gospel, or good news of Jesus, is really what they need, then how does it enter into their mess and meet them exactly where they are, not requiring them to change and shape up before God accepts and loves them?
It isn't enough to simply tell people that God loves them. Although this is absolutely true, this message only becomes powerfully relevant when woven into an individual's life. This ability to connect what God has accomplished through His Son can only be mastered when one has come to terms with it in their own life first. It's the model we see in Paul's letters to the early church: know what has been done for you and who you are in Christ, and then love others. Although Averee has been on this journey for some time now, she vulnerably portrays that she hasn't yet arrived, and is still in the midst of understanding how Jesus is applicable, and even essential, in some of the deepest hurt. It's natural for us to look at our own lives and circumstances to try and understand God and what He is doing, but the reality is that we will forever be on the hamster wheel with this approach; spinning in circles, becoming increasingly dizzy and disoriented. We must first know God and His character and then let that be how we make sense of our lives. When meeting with Averee, her wrestle with understanding how God's story of redemption is good news was one of the most inspiring parts of our conversation. Yes, because she was vulnerable and open about her struggles, but also because of how it made sense of everything that she does. The way she loves and pursues the youth in her life without promise of any return is a reflection of God’s faithful pursuit of her in her own life.
This is evidenced in a story Averee shares with me about a nineteen-year-old girl named Shannon* who she makes plans with regularly, but for some reason, these plans always seem to fall through. Averee continues to pursue Shannon because after getting to know her while she was still in high school, had glimpses into her world and witnessed a lot of hurt, abuse, and anxiety. Shannon comes from a culture where mental health is not a discussion allowed on the table and has no outlet to deal with her struggles. Most people just give up on her because she is loud, rude, and her bipolar disorder makes her difficult to understand. But Averee knows that what she really needs is to know that someone won’t give up on her. “Because there is freedom in this job to use my intuition and to ask God for help and guidance, I’m not bound to a rigid step-by-step process. Our approach is relational and often changes depending on the youth.” Which is why she says, “I can see these signs—her inconsistent behavior and cries for help—and come up with a plan to pursue her, rather than waiting for her to come to me." Which is exactly what she does. After many failed attempts to hang out, she soon realizes that Shannon is lying to her about why she can't hang out and confronts her by saying, “I noticed that you cancel on me hours before every meeting. Is it okay with you if I just show up at the time we planned, and if it’s too scary to go out, I can just say hi and come back next week?” Since that conversation, Shannon has always followed through on hangout plans.
"I think that often, this is all that God calls us to do," Averee says. "Show up, and be present." The effects of just entering into someone's life and loving them where they are can be incredible, but so often we don't see the true value in this. We don’t see how being there for someone can really help. At her meetings with Shannon, Averee finds out that she has a dream to use media to raise awareness around mental health in the Indian community. A girl who most people don't think has much potential has a big dream, but it took someone demonstrating to her that she is worth showing up for to uncover it. So often we focus on the things that need changing in our lives and the lives of those around us, but the truth of the gospel is that we are powerless to change ourselves and real change comes when we first grasp who we really are in Christ—deeply loved and desired by God. We are able to look past our mess and hold fast to how God sees us because His grace is the real catalyst for change. In Romans 5:8, Paul writes: "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God doesn't wait to extend love to us until we have proven ourselves. He extends love right where we are.
BEING A CONSTANT
Another big portion of what she does is walk with young people through the process of “ageing out.” This happens once youths turn nineteen and are cut off from access to most forms of support like a social worker, individualized mental health services (counselling, psychiatrist), and financial aid. "They are no longer pursued by anyone, but are now responsible for navigating the adult systems and getting help for themselves," Averee explains. Most young people involved with Youth Unlimited have little to no family support and with their emotional fragility, ageing out can be extremely frightening. “Many fall through the cracks and become extremely isolated and turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol." Averee knows she can’t fill all their needs, but she can be a constant, and she intentionally tries to assure youth who are ageing out that she isn’t going anywhere just because they turn nineteen.
This is an area that Averee says people can really help in. Often after people hear about what she does they want to get involved—which is awesome, but also challenging as consistency and trust are extremely important when effectively working with vulnerable youth. While help and support is needed, it is most effective when given long-term. One area that can be a huge help is housing. It is already a challenge for anyone to find housing in Vancouver, let alone a nineteen-year-old who might not have the best credentials. If you feel moved by how God is using Averee in this city, want to help, feel like taking a risk and you happen to have a suite to rent to someone who is ageing out, you could be a massive help. Another way to help would be to support Averee financially as she has already spent years building trust and striving to be consistent in so many young lives. She would not be able to do what she does without her financial partners but is still looking for about $800 a month in regular support which would further free her to invest in the lives of young people who could benefit immensely from regular mentorship.
If you would like to partner with Averee in this work, you can visit www.youthunlimited.com/staff/averee-creighton. The most common amounts to give monthly are $25, $50 and $100, and one-time gifts are always appreciated. You can also email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions or want to learn more about what Averee does or how you can help, she is always eager to chat more over a coffee! Just beware, her passion for youth is contagious and you will most certainly walk away from meeting her with your heart bursting from what God is doing in our city in the lives of young people.
*name changed for privacy
Read more about Averee on our Local Missionaries page.