It was while on maternity leave trying to create a better life for her young son that Catherine first began facing barriers to getting off income assistance.
Catherine was pregnant with her son when she unexpectedly lost her job. Although she wanted nothing more than to create a beautiful life for her son, social assistance wasn’t enough to meet their basic needs and she faced many roadblocks as she tried to get them to a point of being able to sustain a decent quality of life on their own.
"I have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be on the system and the obstacles that can get in the way. You get on it and you feel like you’re stuck there – how do I get off? I needed skills and an education so I could find a better paying job."
We often think of poverty as a question of income – not having enough money for food, clothing, or housing. But the lived experience of poverty is often about more than income alone. It is about education and employment, health and wellbeing, affordable housing, transportation and the dignity and quality of life that everyone deserves – all difficult obstacles to overcome.
Instead of accepting those obstacles, Catherine became a passionate champion for change by joining the United Way’s poverty solutions task team where she offered a unique perspective – her own. Catherine’s was an important voice at the table. She helped create tangible solutions to barriers that she and others in similar situations had faced. They successfully put Halifax Transit bus passes into the hands of low-income community members. Catherine is very proud of what they accomplished. "I was given an opportunity to share my lived experience, and it made something happen. It inspired me to want to do more. I believe that when you make it, you help the one behind you. I want to make sure that others have the same opportunity to get off the system."
With Catherine’s voice at the table, United Way and HRM have helped thousands in our community get to work, to appointments, to childcare, school and to engage more fully in their community. Once Catherine realized her voice had power, she got even more involved, working with affordable housing initiatives at United Way Halifax and ACORN (a social-justice non-profit) and hopes to go back to school to make her education dream a reality. United Way’s donors helped change Catherine’s life and she, in turn, will go on to change lives as well.
Catherine has come a long way, but her motivation remains the same. "What I am most proud of is creating a better life for my son. That’s what every person I’ve ever met who is on the system wants – a better life for themselves and their family. So, if I can do things that make it better or share my voice, then that’s what I’m going to do."
I believe that when you make it, you help the one behind you. I want to make sure that others have the same opportunity to get off the system.