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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
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.”