A Team Effort: Overcoming Trauma and Unlocking Opportunity

Leslie Varsava is a Youth Haven Board member, volunteer, monthly donor, and fundraiser.

This is my story of how I came to be involved with Youth Haven. While I haven’t gone through the depth of trauma that youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness have, I know how disabling trauma can be. I also know that trauma can be overcome, transforming life into one of opportunity, connection, and joy.

For most of my life (about five decades if I have to be honest), I was alone, even in the company of others. I felt different, separate, and unable to form meaningful lasting relationships. Deep loneliness competed with discomfort in the presence of others, even family or “friends”. There was nowhere I felt entirely safe. I was fortunate to find solace in learning, writing, and in individual sports. Who knows where I would be without them.

A temporary reprieve came in my late 20s when I took a break from my career to immerse myself in windsurfing. At the time, I didn’t realize that I would be accepted by such a welcoming community in Barrie and beyond – I just knew that when I was windsurfing, life was beautiful. In my second season of running a windsurfing school at Minet’s Point, I met the love of my life and future husband Bruce. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

There was a deeply buried cause of my social dysfunction.

Leslie Varsava
Leslie Varsava at Youth Haven

Without the camaraderie of the windsurfing community, I spiraled back into isolation and depression. Then things got worse. For six long years, I suffered from the disabling pain of systemic inflammation. I suspect it was related to my disease. I never expected to recover, but through a focus on self-care (with meditation playing a key role) I slowly began to heal.

In a fateful move towards the end of my illness, I quit my job to become an independent publisher of community magazines that brought people together through sharing local information and stories. The business grew, I felt appreciated, but I was burning out. I couldn’t trust my highly capable and dedicated team, and micro-managed everything.

In what proved to be the most providential moment in my life, I signed up to work for a year with a business coach. In an initial weekend retreat, through the use of neuro-linguistic programming, we uncovered a deeply buried traumatic experience from my early childhood in Montreal during the FLQ crisis. We spent the weekend processing it with the critical thinking I wasn’t capable of as a young child. While I still find it hard to completely trust others, I instantly stopped feeling crippling disassociation and loneliness – a truly miraculous change after all that time, and discovered a surprising source of joy – helping my team develop, take chances, even make mistakes, and discover the depth of their talents in service of community. I have since retired but feel deep satisfaction knowing that the publications I launched are in great hands.

What if our vulnerable youth in Simcoe County don’t get the help they need to overcome the gigantic hurdles they face, through no fault of their own? What if they do? These questions absorb me, and drive me to do what I can for Youth Haven to ensure vulnerable youth have opportunities. If you feel the same way, join our team of volunteers, monthly donors and fundraisers, and experience the joy of changing lives for the better.

The best method of overcoming obstacles is the team method. – Colin Powell

Has Leslie’s story inspired you?  Would you like to #BeTheDifference in the lives of youth experiencing homelessness?  Click here to learn how you can help Youth Haven.

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