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“I was in the heart of the army – the Infantry – from age 16 to age 24. I understand how army life conditions a person. So I can understand so much of what the Veterans are having a hard time with, things that go beyond what they can explain with words.”
That personal experience of army life gives Kuinton Elliott’s work as Veterans Peer Support Worker its foundation. But it’s not the only qualification he has for the work he is doing.
“I qualify as a peer worker in two ways. I am a Veteran, but I also travelled the world for a year and a half. During that time, I was often technically homeless, on the streets. I also grew up poor, and I know what it’s like not to have food, to go to bed hungry.”
Kuinton works with Marla Newman, Good Shepherd’s Veterans Housing Navigator, an experienced social worker. He attends the support groups for Veterans and much more.
“I visit Veterans who have been housed. I accompany people to doctor’s appointments or to any activity they need to do but they feel anxious about doing on their own. I can support Veterans in doing the things they need to do until they get comfortable doing it on their own.”
Having a Veteran working with Veterans matters because military life differs dramatically from civilian life. “Going into civilian life is frustrating,” says Kuinton. “A lot of Veterans feel like civilian society lacks common sense.”
A Veterans Peer Worker can also tap into the trust and bonding established by shared military service. As Kuinton points out, “You have a deep connection because you didn’t just hang out, you had to survive together. I truly miss that part, because in regular life there isn’t that demand, so you don’t develop those bonds.”
A passion for protecting and helping other people drew Kuinton to the military. He left when he saw that it did not match his dream. “When I left the military, I tried to live life according to what society told me to do. I completed university; I tried out for the CFL; I had a girlfriend. And despite the degree and the military experience, I couldn’t get a job anywhere. I ended up working as a parking lot attendant. Part-time, minimum wage.”
Kuinton abandoned everything and left on a quest to find inner peace regardless of external circumstances. “Before, my happiness came from what I was doing — school, sports, the military. I left with no intention of coming back, no roots, no possessions.”
But a year and a half later, as he was feeling he had found what he was seeking, he got a call that his godmother had died. He came back to support his family. A staff member for Guitars for Vets — a group that had helped him tremendously during his transition from the military — sent him the job posting for Veterans Peer Support Worker.
The same passion that originally drew Kuinton to the military inspired him to apply for the position. He hopes to help other Veterans in need, to be part of something larger than himself.
“I know I can’t always say the right thing or take someone else’s pain away. But I can sit with someone and listen and give them my full attention. And that can be magical. That can completely transform the way the person feels towards themselves, towards their trauma and pain.”