Tucked in among the pieces of artwork at the iHuman office in downtown Edmonton are standing bundles — beautifully decorated stacks of twig and ribbon. Each was created by an at-risk youth to be burned in a ceremony. Hidden within the bundles are stories and memories these young people are ready to release: painful photos, old clothing and handwritten letters.
Bundle by bundle, life by life, Wallis Kendal, ’69 BEd, has helped countless inner-city youths transform their circumstances and move toward a better future. Kendal, co-founder of iHuman Youth Society, has helped young people without judgment for more than 30 years. He understands the needs of a youth dealing with addiction or caught in the kind of lifestyle that is almost certain to end in prison or death.
Jamie Courtorielle is a former iHuman participant who will celebrate five years clean in January. “Wallis works 24/7 and stops at nothing to provide the needs and essentials that youth require,” Courtorielle says. “He is one of a kind.”
Kendal has earned the trust of these young people. His cellphone number is distributed for use at any time, day or night. He would take a knife for them. And sometimes has.
He’s most interested in helping young people use their life experiences to learn in unique ways. When he co-founded iHuman in 1997 with Sandra Bromley, ’79 BFA, the idea was to serve inner-city youth through art mentorship. Projects like the bundles subtly hide a lesson in writing, for example — proving skills can be learned outside the traditional classroom. This passion for creative education attracted the attention of the Harvard University Native American Program, which has asked for his help reinventing learning initiatives for First Nations and Métis nations, as well as high-risk youth. Harvard students visited Edmonton last winter to interview inner-city young people and families, examining the barriers and obstacles that lead to self-imposed exclusion from traditional school programs. A final report to be presented at Harvard could have an extraordinary impact on school systems. A pilot program will be launched in a northern Alberta community based on the findings.
“It will be a new type of education metrics on reserves and in at-risk communities. We want to invite families in to teach cooking. We want them to do ceremonies together and learn in a community,” explains Kendal.
His work already has had a profound impact. “Every few weeks I receive an email from a youth who tells me that they are all right, they have a family and job now, and asks me to thank Wallis for saving their life,” says Bromley. “He has made, and still is making, a most memorable mark.”