David Stam, 52, was shy and anxious when he was young, and had trouble fitting in. He didn’t have much success in high school, but was accepted to the University of Ottawa and earned a degree in sociology. There he had more success with university-style learning.
Stam’s anxiety continued after university when applying for jobs. He was working at a grocery store in the Niagara region of Ontario when he heard about a student job opportunity in youth justice.
“I went to the Christian high school in grade school, and I had no exposure, I didn’t even know of anyone who had a criminal record around me,” he said.
“I went from that to working in a maximum security institution, with young people that were very violent and had lots of risk and lots of pain and suffering and trauma and everything. And it opened my eyes to the fact that, you know, it really intrigued me that you can actually change with the right support.”
Now, after 30 years of working in social services, Stam is the managing director of Foundry in Terrace, offering free confidential mental health care, counselling, substance use supports, and other social services like employment coaching for youth aged 12-24.
He still relies on his early working experience when talking with youth today, adding that at the start of his career, he put everything into learning what he had to know. He realized that he was setting himself above his peers by the way he approached work because he was excited to be there. Some of his anxiety started to lift as he gained success.
“For me, it was all about, you know, my own feeling of accomplishment,” he said.
“I’ve used that to express to some of the young people and even my own kids that it’s really not about what you know now, it’s how do you get to know what you need to know.”
He has spent most of his career in the Hamilton, Ont. area, starting out in youth justice for around 10 years and then moving into prevention and intervention services that included mental health and substance use programs. He developed a gang exit strategy for Hamilton and was at one point running around eight different high risk programs for the city, while also working 10 hours per week designing crime prevention programs. On top of that, Stam did a little teaching, worked on grant submissions for the Hamilton police and raised two kids.
Now Stam lives in a cabin at Bluegrass Meadows Micro Village north of Terrace with his daughter, and is admittedly less busy these days.
“I think that after 30 years sort of in one region, a lot of people thought I was crazy to come out here. But I just felt that it’s a great way to do what you need to do in terms of staying fresh and staying excited about your job,” he said.
As a fly fisherman, skier and outdoor enthusiast, Stam did his research before pursuing a move to northwest B.C., and can see himself staying in the Terrace area indefinitely. He didn’t tell his family that he was planning to move and when he got the job in Terrace they weren’t surprised.
“And so then I told them, and they said, ‘oh, yeah, we knew that was going to happen, because ever since you were five you said you’re going to live out in the woods in a cabin, like Grizzly Adams,’” he said.
Stam moved to Terrace at the beginning of August last year, right when Foundry was being unofficially launched. It is one of 11 Foundry locations in B.C., and there are eight more in development. He said that it is important for him to work in an organization that has a central foundation, which is something that Foundry provides. Stam values that the program is designed by young people for young people.
“In my older age, I think that being in this type of job keeps you young and keeps you knowledgeable about the changes in the needs of young people from generation to generation,” he said. “I think that I have one of the best best jobs ever.”
A social person who likes connecting with others, Stam loves the team at Foundry and the ability to collaborate with service providers on-site and in the community. He is looking forward to being able to integrate more fully into the Terrace community when the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic allows it. In the meantime, he’s focused on positively impacting the lives of young people and their families.
“What better way to have a subsistence in terms of having a job, where you not only have a career that you love, but that it gives you the opportunity to reach out to meet all these community members that are coming to access service, and to enhance their ability to be happy and live a fulfilled life.”