For many girls who become teen moms, it can be a sad reality: dropping out of high school, giving up on their dreams of a post-secondary education and career, and left struggling below the poverty line as a result. But for those who are willing to accept a helping hand, like St. Catharines resident Kendra Upham, the reality can be much brighter.
The Ontario Works LEAP program — Learning, Earning and Parenting — provides supports to young parents to help them finish high school, improve their parenting skills, and prepare for and find employment. For Kendra, the LEAP program was a saving grace when she had no where else to turn.
At 15, Kendra became pregnant and found herself out on her own with little family support. She was introduced to the LEAP program at her high school, and was able to put her son in on-site daycare while she got the financial and emotional support she needed to graduate.
“The LEAP program helped me go to school and have my baby without feeling too overwhelmed,” explains Kendra. “Without the supports, I wouldn’t have been able to stay in school.”
Kendra’s Ontario Works caseworker, Colleen Lawrason, says Kendra is a positive example of what the program frequently achieves.
”The LEAP program has really helped a lot of young single moms finish high school and be successful, instead of being caught in poverty,” she says. “Our ultimate goal is that they become financially independent and have the skills and ability to support their family.”
And Kendra is well on her way to achieving financial independence. After graduating from high school, Ontario Works connected Kendra with information and resources on post-secondary education to help her achieve her career goals.
“Ontario Works gave me the information on who to contact, choices, programs and things like that,” explains Kendra.
With Ontario Works’ continued support and encouragement, Kendra was able to get her Child and Youth Worker diploma from Niagara College, and is now at Brock University working on her degree in social science. She hopes to graduate and start a career in social services, and says that she will have Ontario Works to thank in part when she does.
“Ontario Works acted like a backbone to my success,” Kendra explains, “because I didn’t have the family resources or support. For me as a single parent on my own, that was a big deal — it was enough to cover the bases so I could finish my school.”
Today, Kendra and her now nine year-old son are thriving. When Kendra talks about him, it’s evident she’s one proud and happy mom.
“We’re really close,” she says. “He’s good in school, and a lot of kids look up to him.”
It can be assumed that Kendra’s son is simply following her scholarly example — one that is no doubt going to lead them both to success. Thanks to a helping hand from Ontario Works and the LEAP program, Kendra’s reality is looking bright indeed …