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I wish I’d known about AboutFace when I was a kid. But I’m glad I get to do the next best thing – share my experiences and help others with facial differences.

I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate, which was not detected prior to birth. I’ve lost count of the number of surgeries I’ve had over the years. And growing up in a town on the shores of Lake Huron, I didn’t know anyone else with a facial difference.

I also had a complicated family life, so early on, my mom made sure I was connected to organizations like Easter Seals and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Having mentors really made an impact on me, and today I’m a Big Brother myself.

I was lucky that I didn’t experience serious bullying as a kid – I got by through being a class clown in school. As I got older, though, I began to struggle more with my self-image.

To combat my poor self-esteem, I took up running (which I still do) and even went skydiving although I’m afraid of heights! I also receive ongoing counselling.

But one of the most effective ways for me to feel better is to help someone else. I reached out to AboutFace in 2019 and volunteered in the virtual camp program last year.

It’s gratifying to share with youth my experience, and hopefully wisdom, whether it’s about upcoming surgeries, the challenges of having a facial difference in general, or just being a listening ear.

For me, developing a better self-image is an ongoing process, and the most important thing is to keep taking steps along the way.