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Sylvanna sits at a picnic table under a tree with a coffee tumbler and clipboard.

A United Way-funded program helped Sylvanna come out of her shell—and paved the way for her to attend university

“I’ve been involved with United Way since before I was officially a member of any organizations, because my dad and all his siblings were members when they were little, too. I think it’s cool—I don’t look a lot like my dad, but when people hear my name, there’s staff members at this organization that recognize it and remember him. 

I started with swimming lessons when I was around five, then my mom put me in a summer camp. Then when I was in grade seven, some staff members reached out to me and got me more involved with the other programs the organization offers. It got to a point where I was there probably four days a week! I would hang out from right after school until it closed. I did cooking classes, a leadership program and now I’m on staff. 

At camp, I was always that person that was very shy when people first met me, especially when I was a kid. So, a lot of staff reached out to me and helped me get out of my comfort zone. Because I’m not really quiet! But it was really hard for me when I was younger. So, they gave me names of programs and said ‘Oh, I really think you’d be a good fit for this.’ 

The program that has been most helpful to me was a leadership and homework program. I actually got to meet a lot of people from my school, because I joined in grade eight, so I didn’t know a lot of people going into high school. And that’s how I met my now best friend. We have been friends since the start of that program, we went to high school together and we got to do so many things together in that program. We did things like city-wide cigarette butt cleanups, but sometimes we’d just meet up to do homework. Once we made pizza together, and that was really fun. It was so nice to just hang out. All of us enjoy the program so much that we stayed through it for five years.  

The program is also what paved my way to go to university. Neither of my parents went to university—as of right now, I am the first person in my family to attend. I always told the staff that I didn’t know what I want to do; I was always unsure. But they gave me a lot of support.  

Right now, I’m in my first year of an Integrated Science program. This is one of the programs that I had to write an essay, and a supervisor helped me. They only accepted 50 people out of all the applicants, so I really, honestly did not think I was going to get in. But the supervisor told me to just go for it. When I got in, I literally cried. I purposely applied to a collaborative program because I had such good experiences at this United Way-supported program.”

United Way program participant

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