Leo came to Canada from Odessa in southern Ukraine when he was 14 years old. He arrived with his parents and younger brother, but much of his family still live in the Ukraine, which has been plagued by fighting and violence over the last two years. While most of the fighting has been in the Eastern Ukraine, the news from his family in the South was not good.
“The stories they tell us was very terrifying – I never though this would happen,” says Leo.
Leo didn’t know anybody in Canada when he first arrived in Toronto, and found himself in the English as a Second Language (ESL) class with other kids from around the world.
“I had students from Korea, students from Japan, Iran…Ukraine and Russia – so I had a lot of exposure to different cultures, which really showed what Toronto and Canada is like,” says Leo.
Leo found it very important to learn about Canadian culture and customs, but these were things he realized he couldn’t learn just in an ESL class.
“It was a lengthy process, but by the time I was done high school I was very well adjusted,” says Leo.
When Leo was 22, he joined the Canadian Forces along with his younger brother. He was mentored by older members of the Forces, and learned discipline, integrity and how to manage tough situations. Having grown up in different communities and successfully adjusted to change, Leo gained a valuable set of skills that he could share.
Leo wanted to work with youth and looked at several mentoring programs to get involved with. He settled on The Peer Project because of the great work they do, and the way they take the time to match their mentors and mentees based on shared interests, location, and need.
“[My mentee] literally lives just down the street from me, which is amazing because it makes us that much closer,” says Leo. “Our communication is just that much more open, especially in the beginning because we were so close geographically.”
Off on Adventures
For their first activity, Leo and his mentee went rock-climbing. It was a new experience for Leo’s mentee, and he loved it. It became our regular thing, says Leo. The duo got along long right away and have been taking off on adventures ever since. Their latest adventure was to the Elora Gorge, north of London, to go camping and ride rapids with inner tubes. “It was exhilarating!” says Leo.
“We have a lot of things in common, but also a lot we can draw from each other – we are a great team,” says Leo.
Leo said he gives it his all, knowing that it is someone else’s kid and that his mentee is always looking up to him.
“I had to be on my very best behavior,” says Leo “but he draws out the very best parts of me.”
“I am very blessed to have him in my life.”