“If I knew then what I know now, my best friend might still be alive.”
Labour Community Advocate Training Programme: Matias Valdez (IBEW353)
Sitting across from me in a quiet board room, Matias Valdez recounts the gut-wrenching tale of losing his friend during their final year of high school. After months of enduring an antagonistic home life, this easygoing young man took his own life by jumping out of a 32-story window.
“I was blanked out by shock,” Matias describes. “He landed only a few metres away from where I was standing. But I was scared to approach his body; once I touched him, it would make it real.”
This story is one of many in recent years that remind us of the importance of learning how to address mental health issues.
“Looking back, there were warning signs. A few weeks earlier, he had told me that he’d removed the safety latch from the window.” But at 17, Matias wasn’t equipped to recognize the signs. “It was a cry for help, but I didn’t know.”
For months afterward, Matias struggled with his own guilt: he wished he could have done something more.
Twelve years later, Matias is now a CFQ-certified electrician with IBEW353. His younger sister Lia is about to enter the same trade. “Now she’ll really be a union sister,” he says with a chuckle.
It was, in fact, a high school teacher who had been close to both Matias and his friend who had encouraged him to consider a construction apprenticeship.
“We say that knowledge is power. But knowledge doesn’t become power until you learn how to apply that knowledge.”
Matias credits the union with exposing him to numerous training seminars – but the most important one, he maintains, was the Labour Community Advocate Training programme.
“I figured it’d be interesting to know these things,” he explains, recalling his first day in the programme. “But I quickly realized that knowledge isn’t power until you learn how to apply that knowledge.”
Each session of the ten-week course covers a different topic – like addiction, unemployment, divorce, and other issues that face regular working people – and features an expert guest speaker. “They’re not just lectures. We got to ask questions and hear from people with experience in the field.”
“People often talk to you about their problems,” he elaborates, “and you can sympathize. But how can you help them if you don’t know what resources are out there?”
This course has turned me into a better activist, a better co-worker, and a better friend.
Over the past two years, Matias has completed all three levels of the LCAT programme, and he praises it for making him more aware of the role he can play, both in his union and his day-to-day life.
“This course has turned me into a better activist, a better co-worker, and a better friend. Now that I have the tools and the knowledge, I can help others with their problems. I’m not going to miss any more cries for help.”
The Labour Community Advocate Training programme is available to all union members within the Toronto and York Region. The ten-week course is offered on Wednesday evenings. For more information, contact Najib Soufian at 416.445.5819 x26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.