Finding confidence and community

A United Way-supported program helps children facing social and financial difficulties in navigating their journey to adulthood

Since childhood, I went through life as a quiet kid who liked staying indoors. With social anxiety and being visually impaired, making friends was tough.

Everything changed one day when I was seven. I spotted a group of kids having a great time at a park near my house. I wanted to know what was going on, and I found the courage to walk over and introduce myself. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made!

The kids were part of a United Way-supported program designed to help children facing social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. The program provides a mix of fun and practical services, supporting children, youths and families.

I told my mom about the program, and my sisters and I were enrolled right away. I really enjoyed the outdoor activities like playing football and other games. The homework club proved to be really helpful too, especially since my mom wasn’t familiar with the schoolwork we were given. My sisters and I received assistance with our homework and would get some computer time after finishing it, which was a big deal since we didn’t have one at home. 

We even benefitted from a food support program, which helped our family keep our pantry full.  As I got older, I looked forward to teen nights where I got to hang out with youths my own age. We played board games, learned how to cook, swim, and occasionally attended Blue Jays games or visited Canada’s Wonderland. I wouldn’t have had these experiences without this program, so I am truly grateful.

All of these activities helped me build positive relationships and learn important social and life skills. One principle I took to heart was the Three R’s: Respect yourself, respect others, and respect the environment. Through this, I learned to appreciate other people’s boundaries and stand by my own.

The program’s focus on arts and crafts introduced me to a lifelong love for painting, sketching, and colouring. I don’t get bored at home because I now have a creative outlet that brings joy and purpose to my life. 

When I was ready for post-secondary education, the program connected me to a network of support that helped me apply for bursaries and get a computer. I also received counselling services through the network, which has helped a lot with my anxiety. 

As a young adult, I continue to benefit from the program’s services. The food support service helps with the high cost of groceries. I’m also grateful for the program’s clothing service—the boots and warm coats I get come in very handy during the cold winter months. 

These events and clubs geared towards people like me help improve my social skills and overcome my social anxiety. They have become a lifeline and inspire me to step outside my comfort zone.

Since that day when I was seven, I’ve come a long way. Thanks to United Way, that shy kid has grown into a proud member of Canada’s Special Olympics bowling team.

Without the support I received over the years, life would have been much different for my family. Thanks to United Way, these programs gave us something to look forward to and made learning more fun.

Help change lives today.

Sarah HodgsonShannon’s Story

Sign Up to Receive Information from UWHH