For a small-town kid the road to finding your way in the world can lead to unexpected and amazing places.
In some cases it can lead you right back home to the same place you started.
After a stint helping some of those who need it most in the big city, Sarah Debodt found her own home town was where she might be needed most of all.
Debodt was born and raised in Lake Cowichan. She went to elementary school at A.B. Greenwell, moved up to Stanley Gordon for her middle school years and graduated from LCSS in 1999.
“I wanted to get out of Lake Cowichan and get out and explore the world,” said Debodt.
She left town and after a year or so began her post-secondary education at Malaspina College in Nanaimo.
“I started university taking the pre-requisites for teaching. I’d always wanted to be a teacher as I really liked school,” said Debodt. “I ended up taking a criminology course as an elective and just loved it. That course made me change directions.”
Debodt enrolled in the criminology program and with Malaspina morphing into Vancouver Island University, was able to earn a BA in criminology which dealt with policing, corrections and law.
“It was always the people aspect, the helping aspect that appealed to me,” said Debodt. “My fourth year practicum was working with female offenders through the Elizabeth Fry society in Vancouver.”
The Elizabeth Fry Society is a charitable organization with a mandate of providing support services for women, girls and children involved in or affected by the justice system.
It offers programs to help women break the cycle of poverty, addiction, mental illness, homelessness and crime. As part of her practicum, Debodt spent two days per week in Vancouver working at a half-way house for female offenders coming out of incarceration.
Her role was not as a counsellor, but to provide support for women who were trying to restart their lives after serving sentences ranging from two to 20 years.
“It was eye-opening, intense but fulfilling all at the same time. These women were all at risk and marginalized.”
Once her schooling was done, Debodt was offered a job with the society and worked in Vancouver for five years. She later moved back to the island and worked at a group home for high-risk females.
When the position at Cowichan Lake Community Services came up Debodt did not hesitate to make the move back home.
“I never would have thought I’d be back, but when the opportunity presented itself, it was exactly what I was looking for,” she said. “Here, I get to do work that is more preventative. I can help individuals make healthy choices so they won’t go down that road. I’ve seen that road.”
Debodt joins counsellors Amanda Sawatzky and Emma Giraud along with the other staff and volunteers at Community Services to provide programs and counselling that help children, teens, adults and families find a better road.
They work with all ages providing a wide variety of services including individual counselling, workshops, youth groups and support.
“Our job here is to cover a broad range of programming that really meets the needs of the community. We try to be really flexible and to adapt and change so we can figure out how to best provide the support that people need.”
For Debodt, coming home has been an amazing experience. Her family still lives in Lake Cowichan and she’s known many of the staff at her new workplace for most of her life. She appreciates the small town connection and the chance to make a positive difference in her own home town.
“I totally get it, I grew up here. I know this place,” said Debodt. “I wish every community could have a place like this, with the programs we offer. Our team helps plant the seeds of positive change and with a little help and nourishment, they can grow and flourish.”
Cowichan Lake Community Services is located at 121 Point Ideal Road (250-749-6822) and is open Monday through Friday.