Frederick Dryden and his family arrived from Jamaica when he was 11. After a period of abuse, missteps and homelessness Frederick wanted to give back by helping youth. He shares how visiting one boy in a detention centre led to the founding of his own organization that raises hope for at-risk youth.
When Frederick Dryden was ready to get his life together after a rough period on the streets, he wanted to find a way to help youth. Having been an at-risk youth himself, he knew what it was like to struggle to break the cycle. In 2002, he began visiting youth in a detention centre. It turned out that mentoring young people was both a passion and a gift — when he would return to the centre to visit, there would be a number of young people waiting to speak with him.
In 2003, the first youth he was supporting was released into open custody. While he had totally changed from the boy he was, gang members had come back on multiple occasions, threatening to get him back into his old life. “His parents invited me to see them and asked if I would consider becoming his legal guardian,” Frederick explains. At the time, Frederick had just got engaged to Tanya, his wife of now 17 years. “I met with Tanya, and she just said: ‘Why wouldn’t we take guardianship of him? You spent two years of your life with him.’ She actually put him in the wedding party.”
What followed was two years of Frederick volunteering his time and opening his home to 13 youth (Frederick also had a teenage daughter and he and Tanya had three boys of their own). Eventually, Tanya said that they needed some financial support to continue helping out. She suggested they hold a fundraising dinner — by this point, Frederick had been volunteering his time for two years without bringing in any money for the vital work he was doing. Their finances were definitely suffering.
They held a dinner to try to raise $5,000, but new to fundraising, they didn’t meet their goal. The manager at the local RBC branch, Brian Osborne, had been invited to the dinner and approached Frederick — he provided a cheque for $5,000 to help him continue his work.
“RBC was our first corporate donor and I believe they played a part in giving me the confidence – and my wife the reassurance — that we could really make a difference. It affirmed my vision and my dream,” says Frederick.
The funding kick-started Frederick’s drive to formalize his organization, which he did in 2004. Liberty For Youth (LFY) was official.
I met Frederick for the first time when he came into our Upper James and Mohawk Branch in Hamilton and simply asked to speak to the manager. As the Branch Manager, I would often have clients come in to discuss sponsoring a local fundraiser or event so this was not abnormal. However, if you have ever met Frederick, you will know what I mean when I say there was something special about him. Although he was just starting Liberty For Youth at the time we met, the passion he had for the kids, the faith and belief he had in his journey was simply infectious. It was easy to root for Frederick but as I got to know him and see the work he did, meet the kids he impacted and understand the dream he had for Liberty For Youth, I became an advocate. The moment RBC stepped up to help sponsor the cause was a proud moment for me as an employee of a company that truly cares about helping clients thrive and communities prosper. And since 2006 we have continued that commitment through local employee volunteerism and donations in excess of $250,000 to support the work of LFY. - Brian Osborne, RBC Director Role Design, P&CB.
Liberty For Youth
Today, Liberty For Youth is a not-for-profit charitable organization that provides a prevention and intervention mentoring program. Aimed at youth, ages 12 to 25 and alumni beyond 25, LFY supports those living in the Hamilton and surrounding areas who are involved in, or at-risk of, criminal behaviour.
LFY strives to help those youth achieve permanent behavioural change by building inner character, developing life and leadership skills and inspiring them to become constructive members of the community.
“When I was living on the streets, I was faced with ‘mentors’ who preyed on my vulnerabilities,” explains Frederick. “Being faced with those types of manipulators, I knew that at Liberty For Youth I really wanted it to be about building internal character. I believe if you have a strong character, you can work through anything.” Their innovative and intensive mentoring model was developed from Frederick’s belief that positive mentoring can help youth feel accepted for who they are and create positive change in their own lives.
Leading by example
One of the standout elements of Liberty For Youth’s approach is their Youth Council — a team of young people who are offering their experiences, background, education and perspective to mentor youth through action. “We put together the council because we want to show young people that through the pandemic, we’re not going to respond in crisis. We’re actually going to respond in creativity, which will lead and open doors for youth,” explains Frederick. Each member of the council has a focus through which they respond to and address the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. From university students focused on education goals to youth researching the effects on mental health through the pandemic, Indigenous youth who offer meaningful connections to their community and young people examining the effects of the pandemic on incarceration rates, the members of the council are tackling real issues on behalf of other young people. Each is connected with a coach who can help them solve these urgent issues.
Recovery Run For Youth
“During the pandemic, youth depression and suicide rates increased rapidly. Sadly, it wasn’t very long before youth suicide attempts quadrupled and two of our own youth lost their lives,” Frederick recalls, one of whom was part of his original group of 13 he fostered in his home. “We knew we had to act quickly to address the increased youth mental health crisis and put a recovery plan together to make sure we could sustain and continue to help aggressively.”
The Recovery Run For Youth will take place to raise hope, awareness and funding for their COVID-19 Recovery plan. “The fundamental thing I want to address is hope. Hope is what’s lacking right now. Teens are frustrated and it is creating a major strain on their mental health.”
Between Thursday, April 28th, 2022 and Saturday, May 7th, 2022, the Recovery Run For Youth will take place around the cities of Hamilton, Brantford, the County of Brant, and the Six Nations of the Grand River Communities and surrounding areas. Each day, Frederick and his youth council members will run a ½ marathon (21 km) and inspire the community during 21 speaking engagements.
In all, the team hopes to raise $300,000 to support youth mental health, education and employment initiatives.
This isn’t the first time Frederick has embarked on such a journey. In 2016, he ran from Ottawa to Hamilton to raise awareness for gun violence during his Run for Youth. Frederick ran over 700 KMs and conducted over 72 speaking engagements along the route. His 2018 book “Running For Their Lives” captures his at-risk teen years along with his Run for Youth journey.
Frederick’s aim is to inspire hope, build character and provide access to skills, resources and mentors to at-risk youth in his community. His ongoing efforts are making a meaningful impact on youth who feel supported, guided and inspired by his work.
“I’m proud to be a black male from Jamaica, and being here in Canada is such a blessing to me,” he says. “It gives me such pleasure to serve my community.”
To learn more about Liberty For Youth visit their website at libertyforyouth.org/
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.