I have lived in poverty and have been food insecure for the majority of my life.  I was born to a poor, abusive family and experienced the full wheel of abuse: emotional, mental, spiritual and sexual. I was sexually abused by outsiders, my parents beat me repeatedly, and I was constantly berated for how much of a ‘stupid reject’ I was, which carried over into school where I had not a single friend until I started grade 9.

I was kicked out of school at 16, and couch surfed for 2 years.  To get away from my family I moved to Alberta, then to Vancouver where I started working on cruise ships. I was out of the country for almost 8 years, until a bipolar mania hit and they had to give me medical leave. Because I hadn’t lived in Canada for that long I could not get any immediate support, which meant no welfare and no doctor.

Back in Vancouver I became lost, confused and homeless.  I had no money, no friends, no family, and I had to rely on the local shelters to stay alive.  It became a hustle just to survive. When trying to seek help people don’t really want to hear your ugly truth.  I was told I was hopeless and was refused service.  In my life I have been labelled with bipolar, OCD, ADHD, PTSD and a substance abuse disorder.  Addictions, along with mental health issues, are tough to overcome.

Things were not getting any better for me, so I started heading East and somehow ended up in Thunder Bay.  Here, I was able to get the help I needed to start getting back on track.  First step was to get my substance abuse under control.  Smith Clinic, 3C’s and Seaway gave me the support I needed.  It took time, but I got to the point where I was ready to start making myself mentally healthy again.

In my journey back to mental health I was helped and touched by many of the programs and agencies that are supported by United Way of Thunder Bay.  I met people who believed in me and helped empower me to believe in myself. If it wasn’t for this support, I don’t think I would be alive.  I have volunteered with the RFDA and Big Brothers Big Sisters where I learned about being selfless and giving back. I work with the Lakehead Social Planning Council on the poverty reduction strategy. I have used and still use all of the United Way food security programs such as Thunder Bay Food Bank, the Dew Drop Inn, and the Good Food Box program at the Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre, where I also attend the free workshops they offer.

I worked with the John Howard Society and have had the opportunity to interact with Thunder Bay Counselling, March of Dimes Canada, Independent Living Resource Centre, and Community Clothing Assistance. All of which provide vital United Way funded programing to Thunder Bay and help address the many issues that stand before us in our community.

I decided to go back to school, but because I only had my grade 10, I had to take the college mature student test before I could enroll.  It took me four tries but I got through and enrolled in the Social Service Work program at Confederation College. In my first year, my final grade average was 90.4. Every person who called me dumb growing up was silenced when I received my Dean’s List certificate. I am now starting my third year at Lakehead University. I am pursuing two degrees, my BA in Philosophy, and am working towards my Honours Bachelors in Social Work. I have an 85% average across both schools.  My goal is to get my Masters and PhD.

From being addicted and homeless with negative mental health, to working towards a PhD is quite a journey.  It is a hard road with lots of bumps and turns.  Living in Thunder Bay with its programs, services and people, has given me my lifeline.  Your donation to the United Way is important.  It has helped buy into what I can be. You bought into my future. You invested in what I can become, and not what I was.  Your donation looks like me. Thank you.