When Gerald Nyce took on the youth wellness coordinator position in Kitselas, he didn’t know what to expect.
He had been working as a ranger with BC Parks for a decade, often travelling for work and being away from family.
But when his son died, that all needed to change.
Nyce found is seven-month-old son, Jayden, not breathing at home. Nyce’s entire world turned black. Emergency services came as he fell into hysteria. They were unable to revive Jayden.
“My priorities changed… I realized how important they are,” he says. “We got into a depression afterward… it’s such a painful experience, it’s hard to be happy after.”
Returning with his wife and his eldest son to the house, Jayden’s crib would lay empty from thereon. He had passed away unexpectedly from CPT 1A deficiency, which Nyce says is an inherited mutated gene that put him at high risk. He adds it’s a medical condition common in many First Nations’ and presses parents to check for it with their newborns.
Although he was ambitious and passionate about working for BC Parks and says he loved protecting nature, it no longer brought him the same joy with Jayden gone. Despite not having worked with children before and a significant salary cut, he took a risk and accepted the youth coordinator job to be close to home.
When he began at the youth centre, there weren’t any guidelines on how to do his work and it took time to build a connection with the children. His position had a high turnover as many people could not handle the emotional labour. The role carried a heavy responsibility.
“It was a difficult transition, it’s been very challenging, you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed with stuff but the little things keep me going,” he says. “You get put into that position where you just have to be a role model for the kids and I’m very aware of that.”
His work became more than just organizing programs or hanging out with youth. Very quickly, he had kids lining up to speak to him after-hours regarding issues they were going through at home. Some faced challenges, like having no food to eat or domestic disputes and he understood they needed an adult to listen.
Living a few blocks away from the youth centre, it was impossible to turn away or disconnect from it. His wife also worked as a language coordinator in the community, so their home became a safe place for many.
“It’s a 24-hours, 7-day type of job… They were knocking at my door at eight in the morning and waiting for me,” Nyce says. “I had to take a few crash courses in social work as it was something that I wasn’t ready for… growing up in a reservation is different than growing up in a city.”
For the past three years in the role, he says he’s been doing what he can to provide the best experiences for the youth in his community.
Growing up in the Nass Valley and marrying into the Kitselas band, he feels grateful for their acceptance and wants to do his part. He’s introduced a weekly breakfast program every Saturday, which has grown exponentially and continuously requires more volunteers.
He’s also trying to prepare the youth for multi-day recreational trips, like canoeing and camping, to help build their confidence and outdoor skills.
“Sometimes I feel like these kids don’t take the time to see where they’re at, they’re growing up so fast and don’t stop to look around,” he says. “I want to help them prepare to become future leaders.”
Nyce says taking on this job has shown him how vulnerable and misunderstood youth are, reminding him to be there for his children and his role as a father. Following Jayden’s passing, his family welcomed a daughter a few years later.
He says his eldest son still asks about Jayden, wondering how he would be like if he were older. Nyce encourages him to write letters to him because he feels it’s important for him to have an outlet to grieve as well.
The devastating death of his son is something he will never forget but through that experience, Nyce has been able to make a positive impact.
He says his days can be difficult at times but he’ll hear a remark of gratitude from someone or see how excited the kids are to see him and it pushes him forward. They’ve also helped him loosen up from the seriousness of adult life, making him feel young again whenever they challenge him to a dance battle or share an inside joke.
“Working with them makes me feel better, to help these children grow up,” Nyce says. “I always make it a goal to make them smile and that’s where it all kind of changed.”