Meet a success story: Teen mom credits her education and career to CABE program

Meet a success story: Teen mom credits her education and career to CABE program

This time of year, charity fatigue often sets in.

As we’re busily recovering from the bounty that is Christmas, or maybe even planning to hit a few Boxing Day sales, it somehow seems even more pressing to stop for a moment and think about others in need, the less fortunate who live outside our orbit.

There are many worthy charities asking for help over the Christmas season so it can be overwhelming. Some are strategically stationed outside liquor stores, some are represented by written pleas that come through the mail slot, some tell their story through the cashier at the supermarket whose job is not just to ring up broccoli.

And so we give, happily so, wanting to spread good cheer and seasonal comfort for those needing it most.

What’s often missing from the equation, though, from the knowing that we are doing good by giving to others less fortunate, is how that donation directly affects the recipient.

That’s not the case with The Vancouver Sun’s charity, Adopt-a-School, which was started by this newspaper in 2011 to help feed, clothe and otherwise support hungry and needy public schoolchildren. Since then, we have raised and granted more than $2 million to Metro Vancouver school kids.

With Adopt-a-School, you don’t have to go far to see first-hand how your donation directly affects the school.

Nor is it hard to pinpoint a real success story.

Meet Jessica Ouellet. She is 21, works a 50-plus-hour week and is the mother of five-year-old Kaylee-Anne. A few weeks ago, she and her fiancé Kent Morrison welcomed daughter Emmy, which has her on maternity leave at the moment and planning her upcoming wedding.

Today, things are good for Ouellet. She got her driver’s licence a year ago and now has a reliable, used minivan that gets her back a forth to her home in Maple Ridge.

But it wasn’t always so.

In 2009, when she was 15, Ouellet was pregnant, alone and living on welfare. It was a bleak life. Her daughter’s father was out of the picture, and there was barely enough money to pay the rent and look after her child, let alone allow her to focus on graduating from high school.

And then she enrolled at CABE.

Coquitlam Alternate Basic Education, a 200-student public secondary school servicing the Tri-Cities, on Foster Avenue in Coquitlam, is designed for students experiencing social and behavioural issues, and its student body includes a class of about a dozen teen mothers who attend regular curriculum and take parenting courses while their children are tended to in an on-site daycare.

Ouellet rose to the academic and new-parent challenge, graduated from CABE in 2013 and progressing to Coquitlam Continuing Education, where she earned her Health Care Certificate. Today, she works with the handicapped, with people affected by dementia and autism, and hopes to go back to school after her leave and eventually work with troubled youth, perhaps emulating CABE youth worker Jill Allen, who took Ouellet under her wing from the start.

“She’s been like my mom,” says Ouellet, who still visits Allen at the school. “I am still involved. I check in here all the time. I could never fully let go of this school.

“I wouldn’t have graduated if it wasn’t for CABE. To have teachers sit down, take time, it made all the difference.”

Ouellet knows that she owes some of her good fortune to Vancouver Sun readers, who have responded generously to stories our reporters have written about CABE and its goals.

One of those readers was Nezhat Khosrowshahi, whose company Wesbild donated scholarship money for students at CABE planning to pursue post-secondary education, including teen mom grads.

Without Wesbild’s generosity, and that of others who donate baby clothes and toys, diapers and toiletries, many of the students would simply fail, overwhelmed by life’s obstacles, says principal Cindi Seddon.

“So many of our kids, their eye is on the prize, which is graduation. And then there’s nothing,” says Seddon, which is why the Wesbild scholarships are making such a difference.

CABE and its related programs have received nearly $60,000 in Adopt-a-School grants since 2012, but the need for all its students persists. A recent application for funding is seeking funds for food and clothing vouchers, as well as bus tickets, given that lack of transportation is often a reason students don’t attend school.

Seddon is also asking for funds for her young parents program to supply the mothers with necessities such as diapers and formula (although some of the teen mothers continue to breastfeed while attending class). And a new fridge is also on the wish list.

Seddon, like Ouellet, is overwhelmed by just how much generosity is out there and the difference it can make to a struggling student, to a teenage mother on her own.

“There’s a big heart for young parents in the community,” says Seddon.

Adds Ouellet: “I didn’t think I’d make it past 16. But now everything I do is for my daughters. I talk differently, I act differently. I grew up.”

By Shelley Fralic (shelleyfralic@gmail.com)

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