VERNON - Every day at 4 a.m., Carson Holtz heads out the door with a guitar bag over his shoulder, drumsticks in his hands, and headphones in position on his ears. He walks to work at a local coffee shop, listening to music and stopping to say hello to early morning security guards, taxi drivers and anyone else he meets along the way.
Saying hello to people is what he does.
“To me, that is my day, to say ‘hello, how are you?’ To check up on people,” he says.
The 36-year-old lives to make people smile. You’ll often find him busking downtown Vernon, playing one of the hundreds of songs he knows (all self-taught). You might find him giving a stranger a hug, or offering to buy a coffee for someone who is down and out. All day long, Carson makes his usual rounds and says his hellos.
“The world is not about us, but about the community around us,” he says.
Carson was abandoned when he was two days old at the hospital in Chilliwack. You can look it up in the Nov. 7, 1980 edition of the local newspaper, he says.
“When I look at it, I think, what does that mean, ‘abandoned’? Not wanted. Not taken care of. And then I think of Vernon. This community raised me and turned me into a fine young man. Through thick and thin you’ve stuck with me. I love each and every one of you,” he says.
He was adopted as a baby, and diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder at four-years-old. He was told he’d never finish high school, never learn to read or write.
“Throughout my life I’ve been told you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” he says. “I’ve always proved them wrong.”
He graduated with good marks from Kalamalka Secondary School, thanks in large part to a teacher that went above and beyond to help him succeed, he says.
Since then, he’s earned a college degree, taught himself French, and can tell you what the world’s deadliest snake is — among thousands of other random facts.
“I absorb everything. I try to learn as much as I can. If you never learn anything, then what are you here for?” he says.
He spends very little time at the bachelor suite he rents by himself, and can usually be found at the library, the Downtown Vernon Internet Lounge, or at one of his five jobs — all of which he loves. He gets $300 a month in disability benefits, and is thankful to have work that allows him to pay for rent, food and the occasional concert. Not everyone is so lucky, he says.
His first is at Ratio Coffee where he sets up the tables and puts out the cream and sugar before it opens. Afterwards, on Wednesdays and Fridays, he heads to his second job making gold pans at a local mining company. On Tuesdays he works at two separate car garages in town doing whatever needs doing — fixing brakes, sweeping floors or taking out the garbage. His fourth job is landscaping, and his fifth job is busking.
And he still finds time to stop and ask people how they’re doing.
He’s also taking time to step up and raise awareness about FASD. September is FASD awareness month, and on the 18th, Carson will be speaking at an event in Polson Park.
“FASD is 100 per cent preventable and zero per cent curable,” he says. “We can make a difference, I believe that with my heart and soul.”
Despite the challenges of the condition, Carson doesn’t harbour any anger about being born with FASD.
“Some people say mental illness is a curse. But it makes me have a different outlook than other people. Who is normal in this day and age, anyway? Who wants to be normal?” he says.
He’s encouraging people to keep an open mind and make a difference in someone’s world by showing a little kindness.
“I’m offering a challenge to everybody city-wide or worldwide,” Carson says. “If anybody wants to give a hug to someone they don’t know on Sept. 18, please do that for me,” he says.
The Sept. 18 FASD Awareness event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Polson Park.
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