When Maricar Smith arrived in Canada 21 years ago, she came looking for an opportunity. With few economic prospects in her native Philippines, Canada gave her a chance to get an education and follow her dreams.
For 16 years, Maricar worked tirelessly at her job to support her family. However, she began to need more flexibility and income to take care of her growing family. But after 16 years at the same fast-food job, she thought she had too many bills and too few skills to ever get her dreams back on track. “I didn’t know what I could do,” she says through tears. “It always seemed like there were just too many barriers, too many things holding me back. I felt stuck and I thought I wasn’t good enough to do anything better.”
Despite her struggles, Maricar never gave up on her goal. Looking to her mother for inspiration, who had five children and still managed to return to school, she stayed determined and started volunteering at her children’s pre-school. She found that she enjoyed working with other children and, eventually, began working with disabled children. It was through disabled children that Maricar finally found the challenge and fulfilment she was looking for.
Her dreams started taking shape again. “It’s just the smile that you get when you do something that the child likes,” she says. “Or when they hold your hand, because it’s hard for them to communicate, and they come close to you. It was the little things that gave me such a wonderful feeling.” With Human Resources and Skills Development Canada HRSDC funding, Maricar enrolled in the Education Assistant (EA) program at Stenberg College. In order to focus on her studies, she and her family had to make a lot of difficult sacrifices. Her husband went back on night shifts. Her daughters helped baby-sit their younger brother. And while the kids were at soccer practice, Maricar transformed her car into a library—turning the engine on every once in a while to get some heat so she could keep studying. After waiting so long to start her career, Maricar dove headfirst into her schooling. She took on extra assignments. She continued to volunteer with special needs children outside of the classroom. Throughout it all, she managed to maintain an incredible 98 per cent grade average.
As the year went on, she quickly became an inspiration to those around her. It was this dedication to her education and community that helped make Maricar Stenberg’s 2009 Student of the Year—an award that comes with a full tuition reimbursement. “When Maricar started the program she demonstrated right from the start that she was completely dedicated and committed to excellence,” says Lisa Shaw, Stenberg’s EA instructor. “She’s the kind of a person who does a little bit more. I think that’s a remarkable quality because she was so consistent with that.”
Stenberg’s one-year program has now helped launch Maricar’s much-awaited and longed-for career. She was hired as a casual for the Surrey School District right out of school and also works part-time for Harmony House as a Behavioural Organizer, doing early intervention work with an autistic child. “The job I’m doing is instant gratification,” she says. “It’s an amazing feeling to see a child learn and grow.”
Maricar now has a new sense of confidence. Once shy and insecure, she now beams with pride and looks to her future career with happiness. Two decades after having first arrived in Canada with the hope of something better, she has finally realized her dream. “If you have a dream and you can’t get there right now, there’s always tomorrow,” she says. “Never give up.”
Troy Balderson is a 2013 graduate of Stenberg’s Community Mental Health and Addictions Worker program. Now working as a Shelter Supervisor, Troy transitioned from a life of addiction to a career built on helping others.
After completing a three-month treatment program at a recovery house, Troy continued working at the same facility for another year as a house monitor. He quickly realized that he had a passion for helping others, and decided to return to school to complete a degree that would allow him to realize that passion.
Troy completed a diploma in professional counselling at a private institution, but after graduating, found that he was unable to land a job because of his criminal record. “I met one of the staff at Stenberg, and speaking to him I felt that something was different, because he would not sign me up and he would not take my money until they were sure that I would be able to get a job, or at least be able to compete for one. Stenberg staff took the time to ensure that there were facilities that would be willing to hire me after I graduated, so I enrolled in the program.”
“The best part about my job is being able to work with clients and see them change their lives. Seeing someone come from living on the streets for ten years, and helping them find housing, that transformation is amazing.”
Troy’s own transformation is amazing as well. As one of the top students in the Community Mental Health and Addictions Worker program, Troy was selected as the 2013 Stenberg College Valedictorian.
“As a former addict, I am a strong believer that positive change is the result of taking small steps towards that change. We are a product of our environments, so in order to affect positive change, you have to surround yourself with positive people. I can honestly say there was not one person I met at Stenberg that wasn’t completely invested in my success. I think that if you want to succeed even half as much as the instructors and staff want you to, you’re going to accomplish great things…Stenberg has given me the key to open the door to change the rest of my life.”