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Building a brighter future


I didn’t really register what was happening the first time my family and I entered a shelter. My mom was fleeing an abusive relationship, so she took me and my siblings to a local shelter. I was seven, and I remember there were so many kids—it was so much fun. We even got tickets to an NBA game that someone must have donated.

I was born strong, but I grew up around poverty. I understood the situation we were in, I just didn’t give it much thought. I was happy to be with my mom, brother and sisters. I was grateful we were safe and was looking forward to discovering what was next for us.

Some days, it felt like we were living a double life. Even though we were in a shelter or transient, we were regular kids. People didn’t necessarily see our struggles. We rarely talked about our situation; we decided we were just going to survive. This was our life.

And my mom is a proud person. As a single parent, she took care of us the best way she knew. I felt like she was ashamed—but she was also strong. So I decided to be strong too.

We were in and out of shelters for the next couple of years. By the time I was 13 or so, we were living with another family and wanted to move to our own place. That’s when I got my first job. I sold chocolates for a man who ran a small charitable organization. I gave the money to my family so that we could move.

I still took school seriously. For the most part, I was a decent student, though I could have applied myself a little more. I was motivated to graduate high school because I knew that I couldn’t get a job without a diploma. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that whatever I did had to be substantial enough to help provide for my younger siblings—by that point, there were seven of us. I never second-guessed my role as a caregiver for my brothers and sisters. It always came naturally to me.

I’m an ambitious person. I believe in hard work and being passionate about what you do. I had never thought about skilled trades as a career path, but after I graduated from high school, I had the chance to enrol in a United Way pre-apprenticeship construction training program. It changed my life.

After graduating, I applied to become a drywall finisher and now I work as an official drywall finisher apprentice. I’ve completed 1,500 hours of the required 6,400. I’m part of a union and am registered with the provincial college of trades. I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished. Being in charge of my financial freedom is empowering.

What I’ve experienced in life has prepared me for my success in construction. Eventually, I want to build affordable homes for other people just like me. Sometimes it’s good to be seen as someone who never gives up—an ambitious person who is breaking stereotypes and bringing a different flavour to an industry that hasn’t really opened itself up to diversity.

The one thing I want people to take away from my story is that it doesn’t really matter what your life circumstances are, as long as you have the motivation to succeed and complete your goals. You have to appreciate how far you’ve come and celebrate each moment. I’ve spent more of my life being transient—either homeless or couch surfing—than I have living in a stable situation. But where I am right now, the sky is the limit. I can do anything.

- Lolley
United Way program participant