By Renée Rodgers
Mitch Mitchell spent half his life in foster care.
Now the bursaries he’s earned will help him achieve his goal of working for the Children’s Aid Society.
Mitchell, 20, was presented with $2,000 in bursaries at the Reach For Success Youth Achievement Awards. The ceremony took place May 24 at the Empire Theatre in Belleville.
In a speech, Mitchell told the audience his life hasn’t always been easy.
“I have had struggles to get where I am today,” he said.
Currently a Loyalist College student, Mitchell plans to enter his second year of child and youth studies this fall. He hopes to get his diploma, and then go to Ryerson University to earn a degree. His goal is to some day work for children’s aid and now he’s one step closer. He was recently offered a summer position at CAS Northumberland, which he gladly accepted.
Mitchell credits Hastings Children’s Aid Society and Quinte Children’s Foundation for his academic success.
“If it weren’t for the agency and the foundation I probably wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be standing here, wouldn’t be dressed like this, I probably wouldn’t even be in school.”
The awards ceremony, now in its 11th year, is meant to acknowledge the achievements of young people from Hastings County and Mohawk Territory. About 60 young people were presented with $50 youth recognition awards. Another $49,500 worth of bursaries was divided up between 33 youths involved with CAS who are planning to go to college or university.
Dance numbers performed by Quinte Ballet School and song performances by Stirling singer Ricki Montgomery punctuated the evening.
Peter Snyder also received special recognition for winning the 2011 Clark Bursary, established in 1989 to help youth in care with the cost of post-secondary education.
“I feel lucky to be picked,” said Snyder.
The St. Theresa’s student has been accepted into the Paralegal program at Georgian College in Barrie. He hopes to eventually become a child advocacy lawyer.
Event Co-Chair Christa Antle-Baldwin said the number of youths involved in children’s aid who are going to college or university this year has increased dramatically from years past.
“Eleven years ago when we started we had a couple of kids going off to post secondary and now we have 36 this year,” she said. “That, in itself, is very telling. We’re doing something right.”
Antle-Baldwin said achieving success can be especially challenging for youths in care.
“Data can show you that we’re not as successful, that youth in care have some roadblocks they need to overcome – and we’re doing that,” she said. “We’re helping them with tutoring, advocating for appropriate educational plans in school programming and our kids are being successful.”
Brandi Hodge, executive director for QCF, said the purpose of the event is twofold.
“One aspect is a reward for the accomplishments they’ve already achieved and another is motivation in order to help them stay motivated and keep on track to achieve those dreams,” she said.
Hodge said money for the bursaries, which ranged from around $1,000 to $2,000, was provided through direct donations and community fundraising events.
Len Kennedy, executive director for HCAS, led the ceremony. He said the evening was about inspiring youths to reach for success.
“We want you to dream,” he told the crowd. “Whether you want to be a teacher, a social worker, a lawyer, a hairdresser, a construction worker, electrician, a child and youth worker, a scientist, or businessperson. Whatever it is you want to be. The dreams you have today we want you to achieve tomorrow.”
For Mitchell, his dreams include having his own office at CAS one day. He hopes to inspire youth the way workers at children’s aid once inspired him.
“CAS gives you the power,” Mitchell told the crowd. “It’s up to you to utilize it.”