Re-found connections fuel dream career

By United Way British Columbia  |  November 18, 2021

As a child in care, Michelle* had few items to call her own. One, a sealskin purse, crisscrossed Canada with her dozens of times between Newfoundland and Labrador and BC.  The memento saw her through life as a single teen mom struggling to raise her children. Today, settled in northern BC with her family and pursuing her Bachelor of Social Work degree through University of Victoria distance learning, the 42-year-old says the good luck charm serves as a reminder of how far she’s come. That’s because Michelle didn’t think she would ever attend university.

Like many former youths in care, she lacked both the financial and social support networks many take for granted. About 92% of BC parents with children under 30 help them financially – this critical support is not often available for former youth in care. And it makes getting a post-secondary education challenging.

“I was always trying to overcome obstacles alone, without family to turn to as support. When I was finally able to go to school paying for it was incredibly difficult. I worked two jobs to go to college; I worked 60 hours a week while attending fulltime,” Michelle remembers.

On top of tuition, basic living expenses for post-secondary students run to almost $20,000 a year for things like rent, phone, transit, and food. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things even harder.

COVID impacts

“In a normal year I would have struggled to pay for a class or two while I work and, now in the year of COVID, I struggle to pay for food, heat and my mortgage,” says Michelle. Thanks to support from the Youth Futures Education Fund (YFEF) which provides support for basic living expenses for former youth in care, she can concentrate on her degree.

“For many students like Michelle, who are former youth in care, COVID-19 has had and continues to have a huge impact on people’s ability to manage financially,” says Kim Winchell, Senior Director, Strategy & Operations at United Way British Columbia – working with communities in BC’s Interior, Lower Mainland and Central & Northern Vancouver Island, fund partner and YFEF Advisory Committee member. “Support from the Youth Futures Education Fund means students can concentrate on their studies without having to worry or withdraw from classes to work to make ends meet.”

“I do not have the stress of paying for my education and that makes my learning so much easier…I am so grateful to have this opportunity to not only make my life better but so that I may help someone else in the future when I start my career as a social worker,” Michelle says.

Helping her community

Like 30% of YFEF recipients, Michelle is Indigenous. As an Inuit Metis Michelle spent much of her young life disconnected from her heritage. When she graduates in June 2022 and returns to her employer, Northern Health as a social worker, Michelle is looking very forward to sharing her skills, knowledge and life experiences to help Indigenous and First Nations in her community.

“I live on Tsimshian territory. We have very limited resources here for our Indigenous peoples,” Michelle says. “I will be working with our local Indigenous communities as an ally for the client. It makes me proud to think that I have been strong enough to get this far, and that someday I will be able to provide an understanding of what it means to work within a decolonizing anti-racist framework to help my community.”

“The Youth Futures Education Fund means students like Michelle have access to education and can achieve their full potential,” says Kim. And will help others do the same.

“I will remember this gift to someone else someday,” Michelle says.

Help students like Michelle succeed. Donate today.

The Youth Futures Education Fund was collaboratively established by: Coast Capital, The Province of British Columbia, and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth. The fund is guided by an Advisory Committee, held at Vancouver Foundation and is administered by United Way British Columbia.

*Name changed to protect identity