35 Years Old
Class of 2020
“I just hope the memories I shared with people are just remembered. No matter how good or bad the memory was, it was never actually good or bad. It was just a memory that added to who they are now as a person.”
– TJ Carabeo when asked what people will say about his impact one day.
TJ Carabeo’s professional life has found him working primarily with kids and families, and that’s where he says he’s learned so much.
“Kids are just funny people who say the funniest things,” he says. “There’s something about wisdom when you know nothing. You have to tap into something that isn’t in your brain yet, so you are forced to use intuition as a child does.”
TJ has also learned a lot through the homeless and vulnerable populations.
“We learn contentment when we have little, but we often feel that we should have lots in order to live. We choose to not listen to the old teachings about the importance of understanding the poor, because we feel that we have money,” TJ shares. “But that’s when we should really think about being poor. Not to be worried, but to really understand that the less we have, the less problems we have.”
When reflecting on life in Fort McMurray, TJ talks about the magnetic pull that keeps people in the community…beyond the money brought in by industry.
“My favourite place in Fort McMurray is the graveyard,” TJ says. “I find it always so peaceful. I started walking around and seeing who was buried there and just imagined what they’re lives were like and why they stayed here until death.
“My best friend noticed one time that there was a weird magnet thing happening in the graveyard because his compass was going crazy, he continues. “So that’s when I started thinking about what is the magnet that keeps us here. I think that what the past citizens of this city were telling me is to figure out why we are here. And live while we’re here. There’s so many of us trying to figure it out that if we work together, we can make magic.”
Being involved in the community has taught TJ a lot about the vulnerable people in Wood Buffalo, but he knows there is a lot more to learn.
“I think that as a community we have forgotten how to really listen. It’s been said that we are bad listeners because we are always trying to figure out what to say next,” he says. “I think we don’t even know what we are talking about, and why we are talking about it.”
He also recognizes that working with vulnerable people is a difficult profession to be a part of —especially for goal-oriented people — because seeing change doesn’t happen easily, and it’s difficult to feel successful.
“This is really where we have to listen,” explains TJ. “Change has to be natural, and change will not look like everyone else’s expectation. We have to truly understand, and, more importantly, highlight the unique things that make them who they are. That will be the catalyst in change…the true expression of who they are as an individual human on Earth. And we don’t know what that will look like.”