November 27, 2018 - 2:30pm
It starts with a simple conversation – ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ That one question can be a catalyst for change, but for some children, it’s a discussion they have never had the opportunity to have.
“A lot of students we visited didn’t have dreams for themselves because they never had the opportunity to explore them,” says Katie McCarthy, a fourth-year student in the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Child and Youth Care (CYC) Program.
“We wanted to change that,” says Ashleigh Martinflatt, VIU Child and Youth Care Professor. “We wanted to be part of a poverty reduction program that says to kids you absolutely have a right to be here at VIU or any other institution.”
In April 2013, the CYC program created the Centre for Community Outreach and Care to meet the needs of the community – specifically focusing on Harewood, the most vulnerable neighbourhood in Nanaimo. The centre supports approximately 15 programs each year– one of is “I Have a Dream”, which focuses on goal setting by giving children and youth space to envision their future without focusing too much on their barriers.
“It’s not a scholarship or something tangible – it’s so much more than that,” says Martinflatt.
“We start asking how can you overcome those barriers by accessing the right resources and discovering your resiliency,” says McCarthy. “Resiliency is a personal process, but there are things people can do to promote resiliency in someone – like giving them tools to challenge their adversity.”
The I Have a Dream program is implemented by third-year CYC students who go into elementary and high school classrooms to organically build relationships with kids and discover with them what their aspirations are. McCarthy went to VAST (now Learning Alternatives) to speak to youth about their goals. Amanda McGladrey-Davis was one of the students in her class.
McGladrey-Davis grew up in poverty with her single-mom doing her best to provide for them. In school, she was labelled as a ‘red flag kid’ and was consistently kicked out of class before dropping out for three years. When her mother passed away, McGladrey-Davis decided to return to the classroom. “My mom was the most important person in my life,” she says. “I knew how badly she wanted me to succeed, so I knew I had to try to honour her memory.”
McGladrey-Davis enrolled in high school and ended up completing her course load in time to graduate with her classmates – and even was valedictorian of her graduating class and earned a scholarship for academic excellence.
She attributes her success to the supports she received throughout her childhood. During grade-school, McGladrey-Davis worked closely with a Child and Youth Support Worker and then a Mental Health Outreach worker, who both motivated her to put in the effort to succeed. It was these role models who inspired McGladrey-Davis to want to work with youth to overcome adversity. “It was always a dream of mine to work with at-risk youth, but I didn’t think I would financially be able to come to university so it wasn’t a consideration for me,” she says.
As part of the I have a Dream program, McCarthy would tour students around the VIU campus and share resources available to students. She introduced McGladrey-Davis to the CYC program and helped her with her application. Now, McGladrey-Davis is in her first year in the program.
“For a long time, I thought my life would always be this way – depending on the social assistance system and all the negativity that came with it,” she says. “Now being in the CYC program, I feel like my future is positive and I can make a real difference in the lives of other youth.”
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University