Ashley Bradley knows how tough it is to relive the lost years of her youth in order to graduate from high school.
It has been a difficult journey for Bradley to put her life back together, but she is finding her way with the invaluable support of both the Elizabeth Fry Society and Project Literacy, two of 25 agencies in the Central Okanagan supported by the United Way.
Bradley spoke of her difficult childhood when she was one of the guest speakers at the kick-off breakfast Tuesday morning at the Coast Capri Hotel for the Central Okanagan United Way fundraising campaign.
Bradley talked about how she had to leave home at age 12 because of an abusive father, gave birth to a child at age 14 and got involved in a relationship with an older man who subsequently died.
“My life had become a train wreck but I was directed to the Elizabeth Fry Society, who helped me to start a new life for myself, and Project Literacy, which is helping me complete my (high school) education,” she said.
Bradley talked about how going back to school was a huge hurdle for her, being an older student who considered herself an outsider, a feeling that was reinforced by the surroundings of school itself.
“I had a Grade 6 education, no job and lots of feelings of self doubt,” Bradley recalled, crediting Project Literacy volunteers for helping her to want to “succeed and to believe in myself.”
“I have learned,” she told the breakfast audience of more than 200, “that what is in the past is in the past, and in moving forward the future is what is important.”
Kathy Conway, CFO of Interior Savings Credit Union and the chair of this year’s United Way fundraising campaign committee, said United Way is here to help kids like Bradley get their dismantled lives back on track, to help adults improve themselves from a life of poverty to possibility, and to help seniors live healthy and independent lives.
And to that end, Conway announced the fundraising goal for this year’s campaign, which runs until the end of January, 2012, will be $1.37 million “and change.”
“The change” aspect will embody 50 new community leaders, 30 more Days of Giving projects, six new youth projects and 100 additional GenNext members.
“Everyone has something to contribute,” said Conway. “Whether it is money or time, any way they can, helps make our community a better place to live in.”
Wayne Bilawchuk, who heads up the Kelowna office for PCL Construction, also spoke about his experience as a $1,000 donator to the United Way.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” said Bilawchuk, joking that he was transferred from Regina to Kelowna—and was given a raise. “I’ve had some lucky breaks and been in the right place at the right time, but not everyone is as fortunate as I am.”
He said his family is in a financial position to not miss that $1,000 in their lives each year, but it can help out others by offering a hand up to people in need.
That $1,000 donation, he said, can pay for 200 meals for people debilitated by mental illness, fund 10 anti-violence workshops or pay for a 10-week course to help abused women.
“And on top of that, there is a $400 tax benefit for that $1,000 donation,” Bilawchuk added.
Harry Grossmith, executive director of the Central Okanagan United Way, also cited four particular programs that he encouraged the public to support:
• The United Way Seeing Is Believing Bus Tour on Friday, Oct. 7, 8:15 a.m. to noon, where participants visit five United Way Community Partner agencies. Lunch is provided. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up
• Taking a day to work on a charity project to assist a United Way supported agency under the Days Of Caring program
• Apply for or support the Youth Initiative Grant program, co-sponsored by Telus and Interior Savings Credit Union, to help youth groups
• Take part in Maxine DeHart’s 14th annual Ramada Hotel United Way Drive-Thru Breakfast on Thursday, Oct. 6, 6 to 9 a.m.