Written by Compass member, Sarah Vellino:

Before Compass I had only ever been in regular school. It was all I ever knew, but it was never quite the right fit for me. For some people stress can be a motivator. It can help them come up with ideas and finish assignments quickly. For me, it is the exact opposite and in school it’s all there was for me. Stress from teachers to get every question right, to get perfect grades, to understand assignments and tests without a proper explanation and worst of all, stress from the inability to ask them questions without feeling like you are stupid and incompetent. Stress from peers to be ‘’pretty’’, to be skinny, to like how they like, to be ‘’normal’’. Right before I left school, my sister had just gotten out of being hospitalised for depression and I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I liked girls – not exactly things that are considered normal in school. All of these factors made it feel impossible to stay there.

Both of my parents have full-time jobs, so homeschooling wasn’t an option, but then we heard about Compass through a friend of my sister’s who went there and I decided to visit.

I was a bit nervous at first, but as soon as I set foot in the room, my nerves disappeared. It felt completely different: I didn’t feel judged; I didn’t feel stressed; I felt safe and welcome to be myself and nobody would care. I spent the rest of the day trying out classes and getting to know the other teens. When I got home, I couldn’t stop smiling. That day was one of the happiest I have ever had and I don’t think I will ever forget it. I tried out classes for the rest of the week and then I became a member.

I am now into my second year at Compass and I am enjoying it so much. I have made lots of friendships here that I hope will last even after we have all left Compass. I am learning so many things I never would have gotten to learn in regular school and meeting wonderful new people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet. I feel so happy and at home here. The volunteers are wonderful – always happy for the teens to ask questions and give feedback. The classes are relaxed, which makes it so much easier to learn. Right now my favourite thing about Compass is when a new teen visits: I always try to be kind and welcoming, to get to know them and their story, to make them feel as at home as I felt when I first visited Compass. I always hope that they will come and visit again. Not all of them do, but I don’t really mind. Compass is definitely not the perfect fit for everyone – nor is regular school or homeschooling. But you know what? It is the perfect fit for me.

Sarah’s enthusiasm for Compass is infectious. She spreads the warmth and joy she feels from being here to potential new members without exception. We know we can always count on Sarah to try her best to make new teens feel at home here. The Monday following March Break, Sarah bounded into our common room, hugged her friends, and then was seen doing cartwheels in art class. Enough said!
- Abby Karos