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Islander returns to become youth mentor

February 12, 2020
By PAULETTE LeBLANC ( , Pine Island Eagle

According to Nick Canada, although Pine Island was a fantastic place to grow up, it seemed once upon a time to be flailing among other communities in terms of what it offered its youth. An island town void of programs, activities or anything cultivable for a teen to do, may end up lending itself to eternal boredom, or worse, a higher crime rate.

Canada said it's hardly recognizable as the place it was in the 1970s when he and his younger brother grew up out here. Although he already suspected it, when he was told outright what the youth of today are lacking, Canada knew he had to get involved.

"Paul said these kids need more male mentors," said Canada, speaking of son-in-law Paul Pichon, who works with the youth of Pine Island in the Pilot program. "I understand that, because even if they have a father at home, he's out working all day. He can't come and do these things at three in the afternoon. I knew there was a need there, and it was something I missed in my life."

Article Photos

Youth involved in the Pilot program on the island.

Photo provided by Nichole Pichon

Back in 1972, Canada said he and his brother were about the only kids in Pineland. He recalls walking a fair distance to the bus stop and often having no ride home after athletic games from his school in Cape Coral. Other than a small market and gas station, he said there was hardly anything to do here, especially for two young boys looking to socialize. Although he said it was the best part of his life, due to the fishing and wildlife that comes with island living, he's thrilled to see the options now available for the island's young people, and hopes it continues to grow. Embracing the diversity of race and culture is another thing that has come a long way since Canada was a youth.

"Diversity was unheard of back then," said Canada. "There were no people from different places, races or different cultures. I had friends I would see in school but it wasn't here. It was very different."

Canada admits the kids he works with have grabbed hold of him in a way he never saw coming. He enjoys all the time he spends with them, from teaching them about the history of Pine Island, while working in a yard, to reading or playing football. The kids he mentors often cling to his hip or refer to him as "Grandpa," which is fine with him. He said he wasn't expecting to get attached so fast, adding that his desire is to see kids get involved in programs like these while they're young and stay on until they graduate. When they do, he said he will be just as proud of them as he is now.

Canada encourages anyone who wants to do some good in their spare time to consider becoming a volunteer for a youth program and spending time with kids who need them.

"It doesn't take a lot out of your time," said Canada. "You don't have to play football like I do, you can just come and read - be there to help because it's very rewarding."

He talks about gravitating toward the kids he feels drawn to, and how much of that seems to be mutual. Although his relationship with every youth in the program is different, Canada cherishes each one, for the unique opportunity it presents to give them what they need. The surprise for him has been how much he's getting out of those relationships in return. He admits that he's also amazed by the older kids in the program who mentor the younger ones.

"The little ones look up to those older kids so much," Canada said. "They'll come running up to them and hug them and the big kids will just pick them right up off the ground. You don't see that much in the world today. I'm so proud of those kids."

In comparison to the lack of youth-oriented projects he had growing up out here, Canada thinks it's important to note the difference in a community today that's focusing on building a better tomorrow for their young people.



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