New Hamilton program helps Indigenous single moms get a diploma and 'build confidence'
Mohawk College provides free tuition and books for Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound program
A program being run by the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC) is helping Indigenous women who are single mothers get a college diploma.
The Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound (UIHB) program was launched in 2018. Erika Corbiere, UIHB navigator, says the diploma is one of many benefits to participants.
"This program … helps single Indigenous mothers build confidence in themselves to be able to go back to school and gain meaningful employment for the future, and that just really helps break the cycle of poverty for them and their families," Corbiere told CBC Hamilton.
Corbiere says the four-year program helps the women build their life skills, and it also includes computer and financial literacy training.
"In the first phase of the program, we really focus on stabilizing the ladies, so that in the next phases they're able to focus on their studies," she said.
"In the first phase we help them secure housing if they don't already have it … helping them find listings, and going to viewings with them. We offer a rent subsidy for them, we help them secure childcare and all the other cultural support and life skills [they need]."
The UIHB program is offered through Mohawk College, which provides participants with free tuition and books.
'The transformation is amazing'
Corbiere says the program is celebrating its newest graduate — Serenity Ashton.
Ashton was born and raised on Nipissing First Nations in northern Ontario and lived in London, Ont., for 13 years before moving to Hamilton in 2019.
"She came to Hamilton looking for support and she wasn't necessarily looking to go back to school, but she [saw] our flyer [and] joined the program," Corbiere said.
"She persevered, she started college just when COVID had started, and just to see her be so successful in her program with the grades she got … the transformation is amazing.
"I just really can't wait to see what she does when she's finished with her post-secondary education, because I know she's going to do amazing work and change people's lives," Corbiere said.
It doesn't matter how old you are, how many kids you have, stay focused and keep moving forward because you're going to eventually make a difference in this world.- Chastity Pratt, UIHB participant
Ashton says that as a single mother of a child with complex disorders, she moved to Hamilton not to study, but for her son.
"Little did I know that … I would be opening the doors to getting more education," Ashton told CBC Hamilton.
"It's been such a great experience for me to be able to connect with my culture and connect with other people with similar interests, being a single parent, being able to support one another and also learning cultural-based activities and spirituality, and bring that back to teach your own children."
Ashton plans to continue her studies. She says she was recently accepted into the human rights program at Wilfrid Laurier University.
She is encouraging other single mothers in the Indigenous community to "go for it."
"You may end up somewhere that you never thought you would be, and you might be making a difference in somebody else's life," Ashton said.
"It doesn't matter how old you are. I'm in my 40s and I'm still in school. So, it doesn't matter how old you are, how many kids you have, stay focused and keep moving forward because you're going to eventually make a difference in this world."
'The support they give is great'
Chastity Pratt, 39, is in her first year of the program. She moved to Hamilton from Saskatchewan three years ago and learned about the UIHB program through a friend.
"I knew right away that the program was for me," she said.
"The experience has been great. They gave me the confidence to apply and to even get into Mohawk, because at first I thought maybe I didn't have enough credit. The support they give is great."
Like Ashton, Pratt is encouraging other single mothers to take advantage of the program.
"You can do it. If I could do it, you can do it," she said.
HRIC is seeking applications from interested participants for the next UIHB cohort, starting this fall. The deadline to apply is Aug. 26.
Corbiere is reminding would-be applicants that they must be Indigenous.
"It doesn't matter what age mom is, as long as she has one child under the age of 18 years old," she said.