A group of youths clustered around a street corner may alarm some who pass by but to Vincent Sampare he just sees a bunch of sweet kids, who usually call out to greet him.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the day that was a historic turning point for much of the world when two planes flew into the World Trade Centre marked the same day Sampare’s life changed forever. He was given the opportunity to make his mark in Prince Rupert by helping some of the misguided youths in the city. That day he was interviewed at the Friendship House to work for the planned youth program, he was hired on the spot and put to work right away.
“My target is at-risk youth. I work with kids that might get into the judicial system,” Sampare said.
Fifteen years later, he is now the youth inclusion program coordinator and works with kids from the ages of 13 to 16 years to set them on the right track to pursue a fulfilling life. “I like helping the kids out. It’s what makes this job all worth it.”
Sampare grew up in Gitxsan territory but as a teenager, and in his twenties, he travelled to Prince Rupert in the to fish during the summer season. He used to stay in the Sunnyside Cannery and would sometimes go to school in Port Edward. The memory of bus rides from the cannery brings a smile to his face. “You just bounce around in there so it was pretty fun.”
If the fishing was good, he would continue fishing into the fall and sometimes this would keep him from going to school. It wasn’t until he turned 30 that he realized the importance of education for himself and others.
When the fishing industry was thriving he used to make a lot of money but as the resource depleted people began switching industries. Sampare wanted to get into teaching at the University of British Columbia but he missed the entry while out fall fishing. Instead, he went into business administration at the Northwest Community College.
At college he expected to be the oldest student in classroom at 31 years but there was a whole wave of other people training for a second career. “It wasn’t too uncomfortable for me,” he said.
He got the job working with youth straight out of college and has worked at the Friendship House ever since. The reason he moved to Rupert in the first place was because of his wife.
“It was love at first sight,” he said with a softness in his voice. His wife, Diane, was a friend of the family when he was living in Gitxsan territory. When she came up to the village they met and started dating in 1993, and were married by 1995.
“I always bug her saying that I had seen her as a child. I had a picture of us as toddlers sitting in a doorway. She doesn’t believe me but I still believe it,” he said.
Diane grew up in Prince Rupert and worked at the cannery until her arthritis got serious enough that she had to stop working. Even though the couple don’t have any children Sampare often surrounded by kids.
He is also a social media butterfly. He does a lot of his outreach to youths through Facebook and he frequently tweets with #PrinceRupert.
“I’m constantly blowing the horn for Prince Rupert. I don’t know why. I just love the place. If there’s something going on I just try to get the word out as much as I can,” he said.
But he puts the phone away as soon as he gets home. He uses that time to be with his wife and catch up on DVRs. Something not many people do these days and phones are often left pinging on the dining table over supper.
Although Sampare never became a teacher, his role at the Friendship House is close enough for him. The centre has seen as many as 450 youths in one month walk through the doors to use its services.
He teaches the kids life skills and breaking them out of destructive habits. He also helps them discover how to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Right now he is taking a group of youths out to Butze Rapids two or three times a week to walk the 5km trail.
“Getting them out there walking and eventually they’ll start running it. I think that’s going to build their self esteem,” Sampare said. When the weather is bad they do aqua-fit at the pool.
Sampare’s gentle nature and positivism has helped him direct generations of at-risk youth find their way. “I just love seeing the adults having their own businesses, their own families now and they still remember me,” he said with a touch of deserved smugness.