Bart Zych began his quest to help kids in the child welfare system by supporting the Children’s Aid Foundation after encountering his own barriers. “In 2012 I had a very serious accident where I shattered my knee and I had to go in for surgery,” he says. “The surgeons weren’t sure whether I would be able to straighten my leg after the surgery. Lucky for me, they were able to fix it so that I could bend my knee but unfortunately I have chronic knee pain, so I can’t run.”
Despite his newfound physical limitations, Bart used his experience as a launch pad towards creating a community project that would make a difference in the lives of others. He found his answer after observing young people living near his neighbourhood on the streets of one of Canada’s poorest areas: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. While he applauded the efforts of charitable groups providing food, shelter, and warm clothing to these youth, he sought a solution that would prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.
“I thought: What can I do to help change the problem, not through the symptoms, but from where it actually starts?… What can I do to prevent the next generation from ending up on the streets?”
After determining his cause, Bart began researching different Canadian charities that support Canada’s vulnerable youth, which is when he found the Children’s Aid Foundation. “It was funny because the first thing I found was all these Canadian organizations that help kids overseas,” he says. “That’s important too, but I’m a firm believer in fixing our own problems first before we branch-out.”
That’s when he decided to begin his journey from Hope, B.C. to Calgary in support of the Foundation — a path that covered a total of 1,100 km and took him exactly 42 days to complete. It was a decision, and experience, that would forever change his life. “I kind of felt like that more time I spent outdoors — and I spent six weeks living in a tent — the more I felt like an onion being unpeeled,” he says, adding:
“Being reliant on nobody but yourself for those six weeks really makes you appreciate the simplicity of being yourself, and not putting on this front. I noticed when I was able to do that I connected with many more people on a genuine level.”
While en route to Calgary, Bart came across a woman walking near a small town where he was camping. “She was walking her dog and she asked me what I was doing,” he says.
“I explained it to her, and I could see the bewilderment in her eyes as she said “that’s incredible” because she was helped by the Children’s Aid Foundation when she was a teenager.”
He adds: “While she’s now in her early 50s, she said would never forget the opportunity she had to ride a horse at summer camp because that experience changed her life perspective and made her want to experience more and pursue her life. She went on to become a successful border agent and made a $1,000 donation to me while I was walking.”
Now, about to embark on his second walk (this time through Vancouver), Bart is once again preparing to conquer his goals. Although he will be joined by another walker, a professional Brazilian soccer player, his mental preparation remains the same. “I noticed my greatest fear and cause of stress is when I think about 100 km in under 24 hours,” he says. “I feel like a deer in headlights.”
To combat this fear he shares his own coping strategies, which are also sage advice for young people struggling to find their way. “I started to think about how can I turn the I can’t into I can, and more importantly I will. I noticed that it’s not thinking about the end goal, but taking the end goal and dividing it into many little achievable goals.”