Driving almost 170 round trip along the rugged inland highway between Port Alberni and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island three to four times a week to pursue a university degree while raising two young children is what determination to succeed and to be an example for others looks like.
“I am doing my best to break the cycle of the residential school legacy. It is something that has been a big challenge in my life,” says Caroline, a member of the tseshaht Nation and a former youth in care.
“Systemic racism has left Indigenous students historically marginalized. We are working to ensure Indigenous former youth in care have the financial support they need to pursue their post-secondary educations so they can share their knowledge, rich life experience and skills to make our communities more inclusive, caring and open,” says Maureen Young, Chair, Youth Futures Education Fund.
The Youth Futures Education Fund (YFEF), which provides basic living expenses for students like Caroline who are attending school on tuition waiver, will disburse $600,000 in 2021 to help ensure this happens.
Overturning a legacy
Caroline’s grandparents, her Dad and his siblings were placed into the residential school system, which operated across Canada for over 160 years. In that time, approximately 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools where they endured physical, emotional and other abuses. This system has had a devastating impact on Indigenous peoples.
“I was in [government] care from [age] nine until two months of turning 19,” Caroline says. “I have been on my own two feet since.”
She started her post-secondary education at 2003 at Malaspina University-College (now Vancouver Island University, Cowichan campus where she began the First Nations Child and Youth Care diploma program. She transferred to the Nanaimo campus for her third year, but the birth of her first child and a series of family tragedies interrupted her schooling.
Caroline worked as a nuuchahnulth Nation education worker for a decade then as an administrative assistant/ reservations clerk before returning to Vancouver Island University to complete her Child and Youth Care degree in 2019 on a tuition waiver program.
Completing her degree thanks to Youth Futures support
I want to become a social worker. I want to make an impression on the kids who are in care now,” she says. “I want them to see you can have dreams and you can attain them with hard work and determination with reaching out for supports.”
Those supports include tuition waiver programs that help cover post-secondary tuition fees and the Youth Futures Education Fund, which help students like Caroline to cover living expenses, which are almost $20,000 annually on average.
Indigenous participation growing
Thirty (30) percent of students who received funding from YFEF in 2019/20 are Indigenous, a 15% increase from 2018/19. Only six (6%) of students who use the fund withdraw from their studies – an incredibly low drop-out rate for students with such complex barriers.
“I am very glad to participate in the Youth Futures Education Fund. They have helped me obtain school supplies and textbooks and to help with the fuel costs of going from Port Alberni to Nanaimo,” Caroline says. “It’s an hour and a half each way three to four times a week. That gets quite costly.”
“This has helped me prepare for my future in that I can keep going with financial support.” she says. “I’m working really hard trying to show healthy ways that we can live.”
The Youth Futures Education Fund was collaboratively established by: Coast Capital Savings, The Province of British Columbia, and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth. The Youth Futures Education Fund is guided by an Advisory Committee, held at the Vancouver Foundation and is administered by United Way of the Lower Mainland.
In 2021, more than 800 former youth from care are attending school on a tuition waiver program to help cover tuition fees and hoping for support from the Youth Futures Education Fund.
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