Aaron Weston has the power to believe in others
J.T. MCVEIGH BARRIE EXAMINER Aaron Weston, of Northern Protocol, said having someone believe in him allowed him to escape a life on the streets and become the owner of his own business. He’s now giving back to others.
This is part of a series for the David Busby Street Centre.
Aaron Weston knows the value of a hand up. The president and founder of Northern Protocol Inc. has worked hard to achieve success.
One of the original 80’s computer geeks, when his father brought home an Apple II, one of the first home personal computers, he taught himself to programme it. When his high school started computer science courses, he spent his first day creating a program for a computer game. The teacher realized that he had nothing to teach him and suggested that Aaron teach elementary students about computers instead. Although he considered himself a social misfit and rebel, he was always an honour student.
“But even smart people can make bad choices,” he explains. “My life just seemed to stumble downhill,” he said.
In 1990, he found himself living on the streets for six months. “I was used to living hand to mouth before but not having anywhere to live was scary,” he continued. “I didn’t know where to turn. I hit a rough patch again in 1994 and that is when I found the David Busby Street Centre.”
What impressed him was that they took the time to understand his skills and experience then put him in touch with people who might be able to use his talents.
Eventually, he met Peter Schmidt who ran a second hand store called The Poor Man’s Shop. Peter believed in Aaron and became his mentor, hiring him to help at the store and passing on valuable business and lifeskills. Aaron persuaded Peter to sell used computers and soon Peter was urging Aaron to start his own computer business. He even came up with the name, Northern Protocol, and in 1997 the business was born.
“Peter died some years ago, but he taught me how belief in another person can change a life. I carry a dedication to Peter on my website to this day,” Aaron said.
Although from 2003 to 2004 Northern Protocol had the largest chat room in Barrie, Aaron was still unorganized and struggled to earn a living until 2007.
It was then he decided to, “Go big or go home” subcontracting to another firm while investing every spare cent in marketing Northern Protocol. The first new customer he landed was Jeff Walters, the jeweller, to service his computers.
Jeff was so impressed that he convinced Aaron to lease an office in the same building on Bayfield Street.
“That was a huge leap of faith for me,” Aaron recalled, “ I had never had overhead like that before. But Jeff helped persuade the landlord that I was a good risk. Jeff is also a marketing expert and helped me build the business faster.”
Soon Aaron was in a position to start giving back to the community.
“My first pick was the David Busby Street Centre. They needed professional IT support. Naturally, I decided to volunteer my time and continue to provide that support as well as helping them obtain used equipment from time to time. But I also have a great debt of gratitude to The Salvation Army and support their ‘Adopt a Family’ program, providing anonymous Christmas gifts. I remember how much it meant to know that somebody out there cared about me, especially at Christmas.
“So many people believed in me along the way but no one held my hand. I had to fight to succeed. All I needed was support and belief, someone to point me in the right direction. The rest was up to me because I was tired of living the way I had been. I was ready to ask questions and look for help and fortunately there were people at the other end willing to guide me.
“My dad taught me to be resourceful and resilient and although I must have disappointed him for many years, I had the opportunity to go home and thank him. Today, he is pretty proud of me,” Aaron added with a huge grin.
Regarding homelessness and poverty, Aaron maintains that some people just need a chance to get out of the vicious cycle of street living. He believes that if you only feed and house people you create dependence and helplessness. He thinks that with the right help many of today’s social dependents can become tomorrow’s social assets, giving back to society.
Money alone isn’t the answer he said, because there is still too much wasteful duplication. He thinks we need to use technology more intelligently to help people enter a continuum of care, no matter which door they knock on first.
“With proper communication and information, we can prevent people falling off the radar as they do now,” Aaron said. “We have the technology. We need the will and better education about the possibilities.”
A great admirer of Bill Gates as a model of a successful entrepreneur who now focuses on improving the world, Aaron’s wish list would be to help the homeless get access to computers so they can access resources more easily. And of course the Busby centre needs a new facility that can also offer temporary shelter, help participants obtain subsidized housing and other services that will keep them off the streets.
“I believe that our purpose in life is to leave a legacy,” Aaron reflected.
“We can give time, skill or money. We never know how our small contribution might be the beginning of huge change. I now have five employees who depend on my success and I am proud to be in that position after all these years. But most of all I want to be remembered for helping others.”
– Alan Atkins is a writer and volunteer on the communications committee of the David Busby Street Centre.
If you know of a Community Champion, contact Atkins directly firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 705-791-1141.