Never give up hope – that’s a message Nanaimo resident Kyla Hanington wants to share with single parents struggling to make ends meet.
Seven years ago, she traveled 5,000 kilometres from Maryland to Vancouver Island with two young kids in tow, $300 cash and all her possessions in a green suitcase. She had no job prospects and very little hope for the future.
With sheer determination, Hanington found a way to carve out a better life for herself and children. Today, just over a month after graduating from Vancouver Island University with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Hanington landed her ‘dream job’ with the provincial Ministry of Justice as an interviewer at the Justice Access Centre.
“I feel intense gratitude towards the many people and organizations who helped me along the way,” she says. “I just want to say thank you. I want to tell other single parents to never to give up hope. I want to tell them to follow their dreams and remember that no matter how tough your situation is, you can make it better. Just believe in yourself.”
Hanington, who grew up in Canada, ended up living in Maryland after beginning a family with a man whose work took them abroad. She described herself as a typical stay-at-home mom who volunteered, organized play dates and dinner parties. But in 2005 when her relationship turned sour, Hanington had to get out.
She left home in a rental car paid for by a friend and landed with a relative in Indiana. Another friend gave her $700 for train tickets to Canada where she had other family members.
Hanington and her daughters settled in Nanaimo, but life wasn’t easy. “I was terrified, uncertain, suffering loss. I dealt with the stress by drinking too much,” she admits.
Fortunately, Hanington quit drinking and found a job. “It didn’t pay well but it was a job,” she says. She was laid off in January 2009 when the company closed during a recession. That’s when Hanington thought about university.
“My fear of failure and sense of being less capable than others almost stopped me trying,” she says. “But I realized I owed my children more than a hand-to-mouth existence. A university education wouldn’t guarantee me a job, but it would certainly increase my chances of getting one. If nothing else, I wanted my daughters to learn to fight for what mattered to them and learn that it is never, ever, too late to change their lives whether they were 15 or 50.”
Hanington spoke with VIU Educational Advisor Rod MacDonald, pushed aside her fears and registered for first-year classes in Canadian History, Journalism and Education.
“I didn’t start university from a position of strength,” says Hanington. “I’d gone to university before but dropped out, started again, and dropped out. Those failures haunted me. I thought there was something wrong with me that made it impossible for me to finish. The self-belief that I was stupid or lazy haunted me throughout my adult years. I was worried I would drop out again, and worried I’d screw up somehow.”
But after a few successful semesters, Hanington was hooked on learning. She proudly completed her Bachelor of Arts degree (major in History, minor in First Nations Studies) in June 2012 with distinction.
Hanington’s biggest hurdle to overcome was financial. “Some days I wondered how I could keep going,” she says. “I would lie awake at night, staring at the ceiling. I would wonder if I should quit university and get a job to pay the bills and feed my family. I wondered if a university education was a selfish thing.”
Just when she was about to give up, Hanington received a phone call from VIU Financial Aid that encouraged her to keep going. She was awarded a $2,500 Minerva Foundation for BC Women award. Soon after, she received a full tuition scholarship from the Macville Charitable Foundation.
“That’s how I kept going when the nights were long and future bleak. Word would come in of a scholarship, just when I needed reassurance that I could do this.
“Scholarships are so much more than financial relief,” she says. “They are gifts of hope. They are the reassurance that you are doing the right thing. They are like faint whispers – keep going, keep going.”
Neighborhood Hero advocate Bill Robinson heard about Kyla’s story through Uplands Park Elementary school staff and nominated her for an award at the Vancouver Island Symphony Every Day Heroes event earlier this year. She has since published several radio documentaries on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition about her life experiences, including getting a university degree as a single mom and mature student. Throughout her final year at VIU, she also wrote a blog about her experience, hoping to inspire others.
“I want to thank the professors, staff at VIU and the community organizations that made it possible for me to finish my degree,” she says. “The hope that the scholarships provided was huge, along with the encouragement and belief in my abilities by so many people, especially my kids, friends, and staff at my kids’ school.
“Principal Peter Skipper and the staff at Uplands Elementary have been phenomenal,” adds Hanington. “Over the years, the school staff gave us groceries, Christmas presents and invited us over to their houses for dinners. They wrote me reference letters and some even helped babysit my kids so I could study.”
“I feel like I’ve been carried. It’s phenomenal and far beyond what I ever expected.”
For more information on how to donate to VIU student scholarships, call Susie Caswell at 250-740-6216 or visit www.viu.ca/giving/
To read Hanington’s final year blog, go to http://onefinalyear.wordpress.com/