I have written about Justin before. He died on Highway 63 in 2004 at the age of 21, his life cut short on a highway that has taken too many lives. He left behind him a large family, and a family of the kind that does everything with intensity. They seem much like my own family, one that argues and teases and debates and loves each other with every fibre of their being. And, much like my own family, I think they suffer every loss deeply, but even more so when the loss is of someone so young, and so special.
And Justin was special, at least from everything I have learned. He had a huge heart, caring deeply about his family and his friends. He cared especially about friends who were struggling in their young lives, often offering them a sofa to sleep on when times were rough, or when they just needed to be part of a loving family, and he knew his family would embrace them. I know this too, because just in the short time I have known Justin’s family I have felt that warm welcome and embrace. These are people who care about others, and it shows in all they do.When I attended the golf tournament banquet I brought along the Intrepid Junior Blogger and her cousin. It has been a very long time since I have been at a gathering of my own extended family, as both my parents are gone now, and over the years we have lost many aunts and uncles. I have not felt like part of a family in that way in a very long time, but this past Saturday I did when the Slade and Barter families not only welcomed me, but embraced me into their family. I felt their closeness, and their attachment to each other. And that is how I know how hard it must have been for them when Justin died.
When a family is close in this way every member plays a crucial role. The loss of one member is felt keenly by all others. I looked around the banquet Saturday night and I saw laughter, and smiles, and joy. And I thought about how different it must have been in 2004, just after Justin was taken from them. I thought about their sorrow, and grief, and pain. I thought about how that feeling can paralyze you, and you move in a fog of agony. I thought about what strength and courage is – because the family of Justin Slade displayed that just shortly after he died, when they founded the Justin Slade Youth Foundation.The JSYF is dedicated to youth in this community. It is all about giving local youth, particularly youth at risk, the opportunity to explore their potential. It is about helping them make good choices, and find their place – their niche – in this community. It is about helping them find a place where it is safe to be themselves, to express themselves, and supporting them in times of need. It is like the sofa Justin once offered his friends for the night, but far more. It is Justin’s kindness and love and concern for his friends spread far and wide, welcoming all young people, and giving them a family of sorts to get through the rough times – and a place to help others get through theirs. It is an extension of the love Justin’s family gave to him and all his friends. It is a legacy, and a memorial, and a tribute of the finest kind. The Justin Slade Youth Foundation changes lives.
Justin Slade is gone now, almost ten years ago, and yet his name, and his memory, lives on. He will never be forgotten by those who loved him, but now he will be remembered even by those who never had the opportunity to know him. He will be remembered as a young man who offered his sofa and his compassion to those in need, and while he will also be remembered for leaving this world far too soon his true legacy is in the hundreds of young adults who will remember his name as being part of the place where they found a community, and a family. I cannot imagine a greater pain than losing a son, a nephew, a cousin, a grandson, a friend – and I cannot imagine a greater joy than changing the life of young person who is struggling and in need. The family of Justin Slade, the people I had the honour and privilege of spending time with on Saturday night, experienced the greatest pain a family can feel – and now they are the creators and founders of some of the greatest hope and joy. They have honoured Justin’s memory in a way that defies words and explanation – and that touches my heart every time I think about a young man gone far too soon, leaving behind him a world forever changed for those who loved him – and for those who are now changing the lives of others who will never know him.