Rural Education Matters
My name is Kelley Denham and I am a mom of four and a 2015 grad of the Social Service Worker Program at Algonquin College in Perth. I am now employed in my field, full time, two minutes away from my home in the Town of Smiths Falls. Where I work also has a Family Literacy Program, which means my youngest son gets to come to work with me once a week and participate in that program. Before all that, I worked crazy hours at a group home an hour away, for a low-wage. I barely saw my kids and always struggled to make ends meet. Every day was about surviving and keeping my family a float. Pursuing post-secondary education was not something I ever saw as being within my grasp. Tuition costs aside, there was also the cost of parking, gas and the time-commuting to the city and back that would not have left me with enough time to keep working as well. I just accepted the fact that my life was never going to get better. It’s a helpless feeling, when you are just barely surviving life. You feel guilty all the time that you can’t give your kids all the wonderful things they deserve, and it breaks your heart, everyday.
Then I found out about the Perth Campus Social Service Worker Program. I did my research and found out it was an accredited program, with no math prerequisite. I could actually be ready to practice a profession in two years. I went down to my local Ontario Works office to see about getting some help with tuition and related expenses. I met with a very nice worker who told me exactly what help was available to me. I made the decision in my mind that day that I was going to be on the other side that worker’s desk one day, and my journey began. I ended up doing my second-year placement at Ontario Works and shadowed with the very same worker that helped me get to the Perth Campus program. Now I have my own office, my own case load and clients I get to pass on the same kind of help I received to. I made it to the other side of the social service desk, figuratively and literally.
None of this would have happened without the Social Service Worker Program at the Perth campus. I would have never made the kind of connections that helped me get the job I have today. Our professors always encouraged us to network in our small community, and in fact often required it to get a passing grade. There was a fundraising course in my second year, where we raised around $2000 for United Way, a social enterprise workshop, a homelessness conference with local agencies and a day-long seminar called Bridges out of Poverty. During these events, I formed lasting professional relationships with key players in the social service field that continue to this day. The Bridges out of Poverty seminar has led to the movement being brought to the Perth and Smiths Falls area, in a series of workshops called “Gettin’ Ahead in a Just Getting By World.” I am actually facilitating the community-based one in Smiths Falls in collaboration with numerous other local agencies while Ontario Works is facilitating one in Perth. These valuable, collaborative relationships are impossible to achieve without the help of the Perth based program. The program suspensions will leave a big, giant hole in the community of Lanark County and Smiths Falls.
At the centre I work at, we usually have 2-3 placement students from the Perth SSW program a year. I supervise a student right now. Other popular internships for the SSW Program in the community include Big Brother’s Big Sisters, local youth centres and developmental services. All these social services are going to feel the impacts of loosing these students. Students help fill the gap between mandates and budgets that far too often can’t include the type of one-to-one support an Algonquin College student will provide to someone in need.
What are other people saying?
- Cory Dunlay: I’m signing this petition because I am a graduate from the heritage and traditional masonry program at the Perth campus and this program changed my life. There is nothing else that truly compares to this program around here.
- Susan Brandum: While it is more difficult to maintain enrollment levels in small communities, a college is an integral part of the community and a major contributor to is health. It's worth some extra commitment for those reasons.
- Karen Fox: The Heritage Trades courses have put Perth on the map in terms of preserving traditional building skills, making those skills available internationally and allowing community members to partner with the college and complete more projects. There’s more at risk here than a budget line.
- Wendy Quarrington: As a community college it belongs in part, to the community, to attend, to support, help it grow and change to ensure it is there for future generations. No community consultation pre- program cuts reflect how disassociated the college has become with the community.
- Shirley Code: Algonquin college Perth campus offers students a unique learning experience where they are a person not just a number. I believe we are a better town thanks to the influence of our Algonquin students and professors. Every year they leave an impressive mark; masonry, heritage carpentry, and social service workers. If registration numbers are down, then how can we as a community help to promote the college and the town?
I spent five minutes hammering out the petition after the news broke of the program intake suspensions and I received feedback from nearly 1000 people directly impacted. No one said they were consulted and no one supported the program suspensions.
My (unanswered yet pre-approved) question for the Board was: Who was consulted and how?
Algonquin College, we want answers!
Kelley Denham, Alumni