VICTORIA -- Amanda will never forget the first time she met Zach, sitting in a corner of the classroom when he was about five and she was a bit older. 

“He was a little shy at first,” Amanda recalls. “I went up to him and said, ‘Hey! Do you want to hang out?'"

Zach said yes. Although he was more composed than she was, and Amanda was more rambunctious than he was, they became best friends in elementary school.

"He was kind of like my grounding rock," Amanda recalls."[He] kept me calm, kept me focused."

They started dating during high school, before falling out of touch in the years after. "During those three years I was unaware that Zach had become homeless," Amanda says.

When she found that out, Amanda started searching for him. When she found him downtown, they didn't stop talking for 16 hours. "I said, 'Hey! You don't need this life! You don't need to experience this!'" Amanda explains. "[I said] 'Come home with me.'"

Again Zach said yes. He told me he quit smoking and drinking and applied for a job at the Imagine Studio Café.

Imagine's owner Dorothy will never forget the first time she met Zach. "His girlfriend was behind him. He didn't smile. He didn't stand stall," Dorothy recalls, before smiling. "But he had a three-piece suit on."

Dorothy decided to take a chance on Zach because she was creating a non-profit program at the café to help at-risk youth. "Try to give them their first job and the skills they need to be successful," Dorothy explains. 

Zach embraced the opportunity and worked hard, especially behind the espresso machine.

"He would study at night, watch [espresso-making videos] on YouTube, and he would come in and make latte art," Dorothy says. "The customers would smile and laugh and that would bring him joy."

Four and half years later, Zach has cultivated the confidence to pursue international barista training opportunities in Vancouver, and take academic courses in college. "He did what he needed to be the best," Dorothy says with a smile. "[Now] he stands tall. He's a leader. He's learning to be a manager."

Zach also recently proposed to Amanda. This time, she was the one to say yes, which is why this Valentine's Day was more special than most. "It's a celebration of being back together," she says. "Of being one."

Of being on a brave path towards breaking a cycle, becoming one's true self, and living happily ever after.