Annakim fFrench is a former staff member at SCHC, who worked as a Youth Service Navigator helping vulnerable and at-risk youth by directing them to the services they needed. She was then promoted to be the Youth Mental Health Case worker with the Interprofessional Primary Care Health team. Annakim is now working with the City of Toronto on the Vaccine Engagement project as the coordinator for the South Scarborough cluster. In this interview, she talks about her work at SCHC, her own experience as an at-risk youth, and her personal journey of growth and change.
Hi, my name is Annakim fFrench. And my role at the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities is as a youth service navigator.
What were your duties as Youth Service Navigator?
My duties were to engage with at-risk youth and their families and connect them to services that met their needs. Being at risk is anything that can put you in a situation to be in trouble. At-risk situations can range from being homeless and having mental health challenges to human trafficking and sexual violence; anything along those lines is a rescue. As a harm reduction worker, we provide them with whatever they need at the moment.
It’s a position where you have to put yourself out there, be non-judgmental, and connect with the people because you’re dealing with a tough population.
What rewards do you get out of this work?
My whole persona has always been to help people. Anybody who knows me will define me as a girl who is always there to help. That’s just who I am, and I don't want anything in return. It's just my nature to always want to see somebody do better.
Why are you that person?
Growing up, I faced a lot of difficulties, and I went through a lot myself. I had a pretty rough background growing up with my parent's abusive relationship. During my teenage years, I sailed into a relationship where I allowed someone to abuse me as it seemed quite normal to me.
I was an at-risk teenager. Got pregnant when I was 15, and I had my son when I was 16. I was still in high school at the time and I went to school straight up until my due day. My son came two weeks late, and I was still in school. Teachers told me to go home, but I had this fear of not being successful because society labeled people who have kids at a young age were less likely to be successful.
I had my son in November, and I went back to school in January. Many people told me to take more time off but I noticed when people take time off, they get comfortable, and they don't go back. So my biggest fear was getting comfortable and not having the momentum to go back. My biggest focus was to graduate high school on time and get to college on time. It was just really challenging for me with my abusive relationship and taking care of my son.
How did you get out of your abusive situation?
It was tough. I used to go to my son’s daycare to pick him up, and outside it was like 40 degrees, and I used to wear long-sleeve clothes. It was embarrassing for me because I felt I was the only one going through it. There was this young lady at the daycare, and she used to invite me to her prayer group on Thursdays but I used to avoid them until one day I decided to go. I went with my son after daycare and realized it was interesting. We talked about things all of us women were going through at the moment.
What helped you get over the embarrassment of being in an abusive relationship?
I got out of my embarrassment by connecting with people like me. I met several women who shared their stories and struggles with abuse. For me, the embarrassment eventually faded as I connected to other women who were going through the same trauma. I found comfort in discussing with these women, and they were connecting me to different resources to help me get out of the situation. And in December 2009, I decided to get out of that abusive relationship.
How do you help at-risk people to get over the embarrassment of their situation?
For a very long time, I kept thinking that I was the only one going through that situation. There are women in their 40’s, 50's and 60's who are still going through this, and I was so young. They encouraged me to get out, and I sat down and thought about my life and how I could do something about it.
The first step is to accept your situation. One should always realize that they are valuable and whatever they are doing is better. There was a time when I even shaved my head to become a brand new woman. When I started university, everything fell into place and began to make sense. It’s all about being connected, and you have to be connected, as you cannot do it alone.
I always connect youth clients with different services out there for all types of situations. For someone like me, who has gone through an abusive relationship, I’ll connect them with different healing groups where they can listen to other survivors and not feel alone. When they realize all of the resources available to them, and just open those doors, they are able to expand themselves. Sometimes people think the things that they're doing make them not valuable. So you always want to remind them that they are and then encourage them to do better. It's a lot of healing in those groups, and that gives people the strength to be able to overcome many things.
Who would you say has been the greatest mentor to you?
My grandfather and my son. My son has taught me how to say sorry. Every time I say sorry to him, he will ask me, do you really mean that mama? He humbles me and teaches me a lot of things. He changed my world. He changed my life. He gave my life a purpose.
If you are in a at-risk environment and need support, visit our health services page to learn more about the different programs available to you including our Interprofessional Primary Care Team and the SCHC Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre (SADVCC).