By Deborah Morrow - The Navy League Of Canada
CPO1 Caitlin Jarvis started out early in life as a child in foster care and has since become one of the nation’s most remarkable Royal Canadian Sea Cadets.
The journey began when Jarvis was apprehended from her childhood home for neglect. As if in some kind of pantomime of social injustice, every foster home that was called would not accept her. Finally, after finding an emergency home for the weekend, little Caitlin Marie Jarvis arrived there in the arms of a police constable, her only possession a small stuffed toy. Little did she know that she would soon find herself in a permanent and loving family, ultimately to become a part of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet community.
Meeting Miss Jarvis, one can quickly see why her foster parents fell in love with her those years ago and eventually adopted her. They took this fragile child as a gift and developed her into a young Canadian with endless possibilities. “We believed in her right from the start,” said her mother, Jill-Marie Jarvis. “We’re the lucky ones.” Jarvis came to the family for a weekend when no one else wanted her and became a daughter and sister.
Now 18 years old, Jarvis is trading in her flat top for a stethoscope as she embarks on a career in nursing at UBC Okanagan. Armed with a Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Educational Foundation scholarship, her dream of becoming a nurse has become reality. “I owe this to my parents and to the Sea Cadet Program,” she says.
Jarvis plans on becoming a nurse in the Royal Canadian Navy. “That’s my goal,” she says, “a nursing career in the RCN.” She is applying to the Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTP) this year and hopes to be accepted by her second year of UBC Nursing School.
Jarvis’s road to success was fraught with barriers. The stigma of being a foster child held challenges for her in her daily life. School was a nightmare for Jarvis who always felt like an interloper; fitting in to her school environment where she endured severe and prolonged bullying was difficult. “The kids were mean because I was different.”
Always feeling like an outsider, Jarvis finally felt like she fit in when she started the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet programme and found her sanctuary.
“I was nervous at first but was really wanting to try it. On my first day I walked in wearing Uggs and a sweatshirt. The coxswain told me I looked great and then she placed me in formation, put her arm around me and said I fit right in and that I was welcome there. She took me under her wing right away and I felt wonderful and like I belonged. She taught me everything and I soaked it all up,” says Jarvis. “That was the day my life changed. I found my safe place. I really had a sense that this was right for me. I never looked back.”
Jarvis describes how she wore her Sea Cadet uniform like a mantle of belonging, a cloak of protection. She describes how she felt the day she put on her uniform for the first time: “It gave me immediate strength. Every time I wear it, I have confidence, and to me it is a symbol of fierce pride and of how much I love being a Sea Cadet. I am in charge, not necessarily of others, but of myself. This is a very empowering feeling for me.”
By age 16, Jarvis was British Columbia’s top Sea Cadet with an impressive accrual of accomplishments. She was selected for a tall ship deployment on the British sail-training vessel The Royalist, and travelled to the United Kingdom for the sailing voyage where the Sea Cadets were taught to crew the large brig. That year Jarvis also won the prestigious Canadian Vimy prize for an essay she wrote about the Canadians who fought alongside the French in the battle to take Vimy Ridge in 1917. The prize included a trip to France to experience the memorial site at Vimy. “Standing there on Vimy soil in France was the moment I knew I wanted to join the Canadian Armed Forces,” she says.
Jarvis says that, by far, her favourite Sea Cadet activity was the SAR Tech Youth Boot Camp. In 2016 Jarvis was one of three top British Columbia Sea Cadets to be selected for a youth Search and Rescue Technician pilot program with the Canadian Coast Guard, where she excelled.
Jarvis describes how she has taken advantage of every opportunity the Sea Cadet program has to offer adding, “Where else could I have learned these skills: scuba diving, radio operation, sailing, marksmanship, leadership, drill? I’ve been to Europe twice and have my Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.”
Even more importantly, Sea Cadets gave Jarvis a life no one else could have provided. “I was accepted for who I am and supported,” she says. “ I even felt support from the people I met in the Royal Canadian Navy.”
Jarvis remembers the words of Rear-Admiral Gilles Couturier, who frequented Sea Cadet events during his tenure on the West Coast: “Admiral Couturier told us that we can become anything we want because of the Sea Cadet Program; that we could even become admirals. Those words touched me at my core — I will always remember them.”
Jarvis learned how to pick herself up under difficult circumstances and to learn from every opportunity. “Sea Cadets gave me the strength to do that,” she says. “I have lifelong friends. I’m alive because of it. Every shred of confidence I have is because of cadets.”