Colleen Lawrason, Ontario Works Caseworker, St. Catharines: Ontario Works is a program that provides basic financial assistance to people in financial need, and also employment supports to assist them back into the workforce.

Kendra is a wonderful client. She’s positive, a wonderful mother, self-directed in her career path.

So initially when she came to Ontario Works, it was as a single mom — not knowing how she was going to finish high school, how she was going to achieve her goals.

So, she was introduced to the LEAP program. And the LEAP program — it’s Learning, Earning and Parenting.

Kendra Upham: The LEAP program helped me go to school and have my baby without feeling too overwhelmed.

A lot of re-enforcing from the childcare providers was good. Just, you know, the positive support: “keep up the good work”, watching them, how they interacted with the babies too, because the family support wasn’t there outside of the daycare, so being there was helpful.

The LEAP program really helped lots of single moms finish high school and be successful, instead of being caught in poverty.

Throughout the school year, they’re coached with a LEAP worker that is helping them solve problems as they go.

They’re exposed to a lot of parenting classes, budgeting classes. There’s childcare available to them so that their family needs are met.

Without the supports, I wouldn’t have been able to stay in school.

My son’s nine-years old. He’s good in school, he plays hockey. He looks like me. He’s a good leader; a lot of kids look up to him too. We’re close.

After I graduated from highschool, and I said that I’d like to continue on with post-secondary education, so they gave me the information to who to contact, choices and programs, things like that.

I went to Niagara College — I did a three-year program in the Child and Youth Worker program, and I graduated in June.

Now I’m going to Brock University. I’m in my first year. I’m taking general studies, and I’m hoping to major in psychology.

I’d like to graduate from university, and of course, full-time employment: either social service or working with children.

The financial support and the access to services that I didn’t know were out there for me as a single parent on my own without family supports — that was a big deal. It was enough to cover the basics so that I could focus on my schooling.

Ontario Works acted like a backbone to my success.