Thriving in the face of adversity

Kayla Sittler had already begun to turn her life around after the birth of her daughter. Support from a scholarship allowed her to complete her transformation.

“Before I had my daughter it was really bad. I was into drugs and drinking lots,” she says. “Once I had my first daughter I stopped everything and I stayed home with her for the two years.”

When daughter Keyairah was two-years-old, Ms. Sittler, who was 23-years-old at the time, went to Tec Voc High School to finish her Grade 12. She was at least five years older than most of her classmates.

“It was so difficult to be in a class with 18-year-olds because they… don’t have a kid to take care of after school.”

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Kayla Sittler at Urban Circle Training Centre.

While attending Tec Voc, Ms. Sittler received the Ilene Meder Scholarship (see sidebar for more). This scholarship is designed to support Winnipeg high school students who demonstrate financial need and would otherwise not likely be able to continue their studies.

“It was good because I wanted to go to school for a while but I didn’t have the money.”

The Ilene Meder Scholarship

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Ilene Meder.

Ilene was a school teacher with Winnipeg School Division #1. She taught at Faraday, William Whyte, Strathcona and Greenway schools. Ms. Meder loved sports, music, crafts, reading and travelling. She was very active in her church and her faith was the most important part of her life.

Ilene Meder Scholarship, held at The Winnipeg Foundation, is designed to provide “substantial” support so students can pursue post-secondary training. Since the scholarship started in 2010, 17 students have received almost $214,000 in support.

Ms. Meder’s Fund has also supported The Foundation’s You Can Do It Awards, which allow students in selected inner city schools to earn scholarships to put towards their post-secondary education. Ms. Meder’s Fund has contributed almost $90,000 in support for these awards.

After graduation, Ms. Sittler enrolled in Civil Engineering at Red River College. But attending college while raising Keyairah on her own was difficult.

“It was very hard because my daughter was only three years old and I had five courses every day, with homework every day.”

Ms. Sittler completed the first year of the Red River program and then took some time off. She eventually enrolled at CDI College in the Office Assistant program.

“I found out I was pregnant the first month I started, but I did finish the whole program. I had my baby five days after grad, so it just worked out.”

Ms. Sittler took about year off after the birth of her second daughter Kaitee, and then started to look for work.

Finding employment was difficult at first, but she eventually found a term position at Urban Circle Training Centre. That term position has since become permanent; she’s been at Urban Circle for a year and is now off social assistance.

“It was hard at first… but now I’m able to have money after I’m done paying everything off,” she says.  “Before it was like my bills were getting higher and I didn’t know how to save money; it’s getting better.”

Ms. Sittler, who is 27, is doing all she can to ensure her daughters are given every opportunity, including opening an RESP for them.

“It was hard for me to be able to even think of going to college, because I had no money to pay for my schooling. Growing up we didn’t have any money. I want my kids to go to college and be happy they don’t have to take out student loans.”

Working at Urban Circle, which provides culturally appropriate education and training to Indigenous people in Winnipeg, has helped Ms. Sittler learn about her Metis heritage.

“I went medicine picking with one of the classes because I didn’t have any experience with it, I didn’t know which medicines to pick. We go to sweat lodges with all the staff and we have staff sharing circles once a month.”

She’s passing this knowledge onto her children and family.

“We smudge in the mornings. Or if we’re having a bad day or negative energy… I just smudge and then the kids are calm after that.”

Ms. Sittler is also giving back to the community. Last summer she spent her two weeks of vacation volunteering at Red River College’s HAWK camp, which exposes youth to Red River’s programming while building self-esteem, self-identity and cultural knowledge.

“We made drums, we did lots of medicine picking, the kids were really good,” she says. “I feel good when I do it. I met a lot of great people through that camp.”

Stacy Cardigan Smith

About

Communications Specialist with The Winnipeg Foundation, Community News Commons Editor, mom of two, health enthusiast, West End resident, cat lover and generally cheery gal.
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