A little over 10 years ago, Saultite Connie Raynor-Elliott founded Save Our Young Adults (SOYA), a non-profit corporation dedicated to helping those with substance use disorder.
“We help out our community with open hearts and no judgment. We’re trying to get rid of the stigma around substance use disorder,” Raynor-Elliott said.
“I saw that we were losing our youth, our kids in the community to substance use, and there was no help. Nobody was really educated on it,” she said of how the idea for SOYA came to life.
“Being a mom myself, I thought about how Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) started with one caring mom. So I opened up the group, SOYA. Within eight hours, we had over 100 people join the group,” she said.
The group now has close to 3,000 supporters.
Right now, SOYA operates out of a temporary depot on 180 Gore Street, with plans to move to the Verdi Hall in February.
SOYA offers help to the community in many different ways.
“We help people with essentials, if they need clothing, personal hygiene, coffee, tea, or snacks. We also help people if they have questions about ODSP or getting IDs, and more. We’re basically a mini hub,” Raynor-Elliott said. “We help connect and fill in the gaps.”
Speaking of her experience with SOYA so far, Raynor-Elliott says that she has found her calling, and this is “what she was put on this earth to do”.
“I was the type of mom where all the kids would come to my house. I had a good rapport with a lot of kids, and sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone else that isn’t your own mother,” she said.
“Giving them guidance, leading them in the right direction and making them feel comfortable is something that I really enjoy doing,” said Raynor-Elliott, whose nickname is Mama Bear.
Raynor-Elliott says that with the pandemic, things have been very challenging, but SOYA will never shut their doors.
“We help out everybody, not just young adults, because no matter how old someone is, everybody is someone’s child,” she said. “I'm so proud of the SOYA team. We’ve come a long way and we’re going to keep going.”