Poverty is not a choice, but a consequence

Kayla found hope and opportunity at a neighbourhood family resource centre.

Kayla found hope and opportunity at a neighbourhood family resource centre - United Way Winnipeg

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From growing up in care, to moving from foster home to foster home, to attending 13 different schools, Kayla’s childhood was anything but stable.

“Having bounced around so much, it made it hard for me to find a true path to anything in life,” she said. “I was also bullied a lot, and by the time I was 16, I felt life had taught me enough.”

When Kayla met her first love, she thought maybe her life would start getting better. She dropped out of high school so she could work full-time. Not long after, she was laid off from her job and learned she was pregnant. It was also during this time her boyfriend, struggling with addictions, started abusing her.

“But I was young, in love, and pregnant with his child,” Kayla said. “I decided to stay and try to create a loving home for my new baby.”

Kayla was 17 when she gave birth to a son.

“I remember looking at my beautiful baby boy, and I promised to love and protect him,” she said. “That was the day I knew I had to change my life around, so I decided to go back to school.”

When Kayla turned 18, she had aged out of Child and Family Services (CFS). She collected Employment and Income Assistance while she went to school.

“Earning my diploma wasn’t easy,” Kayla said. “I felt completely alone, managing a household and raising my son, while my son’s father struggled with addiction.”

The abuse didn’t stop. CFS recommended Kayla participate in a domestic violence program at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a donor-supported United Way Winnipeg agency.

“The program helped me gain confidence, and I soon realized that I was not alone in my struggles at home,” said Kayla. “I learned about the cycle of abuse and gathered resources that would help me to leave.”

At the same time Kayla had finished her program, she received a letter from CFS, stating that her son’s father was a risk and that should she continue living with him, her son would be removed from her care.

“Having grown up in the child welfare system, my biggest fear was losing my son to it,” Kayla said. “And what so many people don’t understand is how extremely difficult it is leaving an abusive relationship, especially when you’re living below the poverty line.”

Kayla was both scared to leave the relationship, plus she didn’t feel she could afford it.

“The funny thing about poverty is that no one ever chooses it, but you are always treated like it’s your choice,” she said. “I was shamed by family and friends for not having the courage to leave.”

Kayla graduated from high school and received a $3,000 university scholarship.

“School was my haven,” she said. “I was determined to become a high school teacher and work with at-risk youth. I wanted to give them the confidence they deserve and show them they can make it, whatever they may be going through at home.”

Before the end of her first year at school, Kayla’s dream was cut short when she learned she was pregnant with her second child.

Kayla found hope and opportunity at a neighbourhood family resource centre - United Way Winnipeg

Kayla at her workplace, Elmwood Community Resource Centre

“I had to leave school, and I was so ashamed. I was not mentally prepared to continue living on welfare,” Kayla said. “By the time I had my daughter, my mental health had severely diminished, and I had very little self-esteem. I felt stuck and had almost lost hope.”

Despite how difficult it was for Kayla to leave her situation, an extremely violent incident at home left her with no alternative. While she was so fearful that her children would be taken from her, instead, CFS supported her and helped her move into a new home across the city, away from her children’s father.

While Kayla felt safe, she was far from happy and not at all fulfilled.

“I was miserable at home,” she said. “I wanted to contribute to society and find meaningful work. But I was stuck until I could find affordable childcare.”

After two years on a waiting list, Kayla’s kids were placed in daycare, and she could look for work.

She worried about trying to explain her gap in employment. One of Kayla’s friends suggested she look into the Elmwood Youth Employment Experience (EYEE), offered by Elmwood Community Resource Centre (ECRC), one of 24 United Way Winnipeg donor-supported family resource centres.

EYEE is a 16-week paid employment program for youth 18-30, where participants learn how to tailor a résumé, prepare for an interview, and find employment in a field of their choice.

Kayla found her confidence and self-esteem grew.

“Through the various opportunities at ECRC, I was supported to make the necessary changes in my life to move forward,” she said. “I was blessed to have access to many programs, and I was encouraged to enroll my kids in their after-school program.”

Through hard work, training, and passion, Kayla drove herself to become the Program Assistant and Youth Employment Outreach Worker at ECRC.

“The opportunities I have been offered are endless and have given me a new chance in life,” she said. I feel resilient, and I have a career that fulfills me and makes me proud. My children are happy and have also learned the value of community, humility, and helping others.”

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