Madi Parks used to stand on the street outside Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU)’s Cornerstone building, too nervous to walk through the doors to receive the help that was waiting inside.
On Thursday, Feb. 8, she will bring that experience full circle as she stands up in front of an expected crowd of 1,200 people as youth speaker at the 12th annual Breakfast for YOU. Doors open at the London Convention Centre open at 7 p.m. with the program getting underway at 7:30 a.m.
Parks will be sharing her experience of homelessness and vulnerability in the hopes it will “engage, educate, and empower” the audience.
“I think it’s important to raise awareness in our community. I don’t think everyone knows what’s going on or this is happening in our backyard,” she said. “I just want to be careful that everything I say up there is meaningful. I’m not saying it for the sake of pity or just for the sake of saying it.”
This year’s breakfast will be a record-setter with typical crowds in previous years reaching upwards of 650 people. With only days left for people to get their tickets, more than 1,100 people have already signed up.
Having a record number of people signed up for the breakfast — there is a limit of 1,200 tickets — has Steve Cordes understandably excited.
Cordes, YOU executive director, said the leap forward in support for the event was a little surprising, but is something that makes sense given the rising profile of the organization within London.
“I think there is more community buy-in into community issues. You look at health care issues, you look at homelessness issues, you look at poverty issues, those have all been massive threads in our community over the past year,” he said. “People have rallied their heads around how they can be part of this, how can they be part of the solution to these big community issues.”
Cordes will also be speaking at this year’s breakfast, but he acknowledges Parks’ story is the one that will captivate the audience.
Having served as executive director since 1988, Cordes has always been a strong proponent of the breakfast and the role it serves in pushing the YOU message.
Hearing from young people with lived experience of poverty and homelessness is a “powerful way,” he explains, for YOU to offer something he feels is often an “eye-opening experience” for those who take in the breakfast.
Parks added her hope is participants will come away with a greater awareness of the reality many young people face.
“I don’ think it’s just about my story, or really even just YOU, it’s really about the people who are attending,” she said. “They want to be engaged, they want to learn more, or else they wouldn’t be coming.”
Cordes said he also hopes Breakfast for YOU sends the audience away with a strong sense of hope that something can be done to create change in the community.
That change can be in supporting large community efforts such as YOU’s New Addition campaign — the $8.2 million effort to develop a new, 40-plus unit building for youth and young mothers across the street from the Cornerstone — or simply buying a coffee from the YOU Made It Cafe.
Parks agrees. After all, she didn’t know anyone when she moved to London three years ago, but now has a strong network of people she can count on.
As that change was created through the support provide through YOU, she’s not going to let a little thing like standing in front of 1,200 people stop her from supporting the organization in any way she can.
“I used to stand outside the building and now I’m speaking for the building. So that shows you that YOU can make a pretty big difference in your life,” she said. “This is important to me and outweighs everything else. Of course, I get anxious about it, but the benefits of speaking in front of that crowd outweigh the risks.”