Against all odds, Kara found a way forward

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This, too, shall pass.

These words, tattooed on Kara’s forearm, are more than a catchphrase. They’re words she lives by. They’re a hopeful reminder for the tough times—and Kara has had plenty of those.

A few years ago, Kara was taking adult education classes in pursuit of her GED. She was determined to graduate, but health challenges made it almost impossible to keep up with her schoolwork.

At 21 years old, Kara was battling cervical cancer.

“I was very, very sick,” she says.

Managing her symptoms and treatments were so demanding on Kara’s time and energy that she started failing some of her classes. Eventually, she dropped out.

Every young Winnipegger deserves the chance to succeed in school, reach their potential, and dream for their future. Yet too many of our youth don’t have the support they need to complete their education, leaving them with fewer opportunities. Today, about 11% of Canadians without a high school education are unemployed, according to Stats Canada.

“I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter.”

Despite her illness, Kara was persistent. She wanted to find a way to obtain her high school diploma—no matter what.

“I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter,” says Kara. “I always seem to find a way to come out on top.”

Kara’s mom, who was also pursuing her GED, encouraged Kara to join her for adult education classes provided through Teen Stop Jeunesse, a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency.* Both found phenomenal support and encouragement with their studies at the centre.

“Teen Stop was excellent. They were just the best,” Kara remarks. “I’ve never been in a place where I felt so welcome. They treat everyone as if they’re family.”

In 2012, Kara and her mom graduated high school—together.

“It was very neat. She and I took every class together except for one,” says Kara. “I felt special to graduate with my mom.”

Because of the generosity of United Way Winnipeg donors, Kara was also able to join a job training and development program through Teen Stop Jeunesse. After completing the four-week training program, Kara and her classmates could apply their new employment skills at a 12-week work placement.

“Teen Stop Jeunesse was there every step of the way.”

“Everything I learned was so valuable. I learned new things every day,” says Kara.

One of Kara’s favourite aspects of the program was honing skills for job interviews. Her hard work paid off almost immediately, and she proudly landed two job offers at the end of the program.

After a few months of gaining work experience at a doggy daycare, Kara was ready for a new challenge: launching her own mobile pet nail trim business.

“I was seeing qualities in Kara that she may be well-suited to being an entrepreneur—her organization, her determination, her drive . . .” says Kelly-Anne, a program coordinator at Teen Stop Jeunesse. “We coached her, but she did the work.”

“I was ready to give up.”

Staff at the agency were also instrumental in offering Kara emotional support during a particularly bleak season this past year.

In the spring, Kara was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. She’d been struggling with symptoms of depression for most of the pandemic—to the point of considering ending her life.

“I was ready to give up,” says Kara. “And it takes a lot to get past the thought of suicide.”

Kara was certainly not the only Manitoban struggling with her mental health during the many arduous months of the pandemic. Since COVID-19 hit the province, 71% of Manitobans report experiencing worsened mental health, according to Probe Research Inc.

Fortunately, Kara knew she wasn’t alone. Her husband, her mom and dad, her pets, and the staff at Teen Stop Jeunesse all helped her get through such a dark time. She also found medication helpful in her recovery journey, as well as regular check-ins with a mental health professional.

“I am very proud of who I am today.”

Even though she still has bad days when her depression surfaces, Kara no longer thinks about suicide. She takes it day by day, reminding herself in tough times that this, too, shall pass.

As someone who has survived cancer and come out the other side of severe depression, Kara wholeheartedly believes these experiences shaped the person she has become.

“I’m very proud of who I am today,” says Kara.

Today, as she continues to build her business and do the work she loves every day, Kara is filled with gratitude for the agency that helped her get to this point.

“Teen Stop has been a big part of my life,” says Kara. “They gave me a second chance at life.”

*Teen Stop Jeunesse is a youth drop-in centre that offers various programming for personal growth and development in a safe, secure, and fun environment.

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