(Pictured above: The Push for Change founder Joe Roberts is pictured with Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute students Ami Hewson, left, and Maryn Hendry.)
Roberts Brings The Push for Change Campaign to
Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute
(Smiths Falls) – A Barrie entrepreneur on a 9,000-kilometre trek to fight youth homelessness brought his message of hope Monday to students at Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute (SFDCI).
Joe Roberts spoke to about 500 students in the school gym about The Push for Change campaign. The 49-year-old entrepreneur is pushing a custom-built shopping cart – a symbol of homelessness – across Canada. His 17-month fundraising journey is designed to raise awareness about youth homelessness. He also wants to generate nearly $18 million for local and national programs to combat it. Half of the money raised will go to local partner charities, while the rest will be donated to the Raising the Roof “Upstream Project.” The program will run in high schools across Canada, helping to identify and support at-risk youth so they don’t land on the streets.
The gym was silent as Roberts related his personal experience with the harsh realities of youth homelessness. In the 1980s, after struggling in a dysfunctional home, he turned to drugs.
“I did it because I wanted to belong,” he said. “I was willing to sacrifice my self-worth – and my knowledge of right from wrong – just to fit in.”
He eventually quit school and fled to the streets of Vancouver. While there, he spent his time pushing a shopping cart, supporting his drug habit by collecting returnable bottles and cans. He even sold his boots to gain funds for a fix, which forced him to walk the streets in worn-out socks.
Sinking to the depths of despair, he considered ending his own life. If it hadn’t been for a loving mother – who took him back – and a caring OPP officer who helped him into drug rehab, his life could have ended.
Instead, he eventually went to college, created a successful website development company and worked as a motivational speaker.
Realizing his good fortune, in 2011 he began planning The Push for Change campaign, hoping to help students facing personal challenges stay at home, stay in school, stay off the streets and stay on track.
While he is raising funds, he also motivates students to see the true potential in themselves and avoid negative self-images that can cause their life to spiral downward. The key is to try, he said.
“One of the greatest tragedies in life isn’t that it ends too soon, it’s that we don’t try soon enough,” he said. “Inside you, me and every human being is untapped, endless possibility.
“The most important thing that I want to leave you with is to tackle your dreams. Don’t be afraid to go after the big stuff in life.”
Students at the assembly were inspired by Roberts’ story.
"To me it was like a testimonial,” said Grade 12 student Maryn Hendry. “Not like he had found God, but like he had found hope. His story was moving because he has actually dealt with it (youth homelessness). He was a youth in poverty. It was very powerful.”
Posted October 4, 2016