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Chantel is putting her skills to work


Chantel likes the variety that comes with her new career. Over the course of a day, she might read to children during story time, help with handwashing, or comfort a child. That’s because Chantel divides her time as a substitute Educational Assistant at five different childcare locations in Ottawa.

A second-year student in Algonquin College’s Early Childhood Education program, Chantel is gaining hands-on experience to complete her studies. In addition to studying full-time and earning top marks – she finished on the Dean’s list in her first year of school – she also makes time to volunteer with a childcare program at a local fitness centre.

Chantel wasn’t always in the positive place she is now. A few years ago, she was in the depths of her addiction.

“I felt like there was no purpose to my life, or no point.”

After successfully completing treatment for her substance use, Chantel decided she was ready to figure out a career path, knowing she would need some support to realize her full potential.

Chantel connected with the Arches program – an initiative supported by United Way East Ontario that helps people who have mental health and addictions barriers get back into the workforce.

A path forward

For many, finding a job is much more than finding a way to make an income. It’s about gaining a sense of purpose and a place to belong.

23 per cent of people with a disability in Canada – including people with invisible disabilities like mental illness and addictions – live in low income, compared to 9 per cent of those without a disability. Extended periods of unemployment can cause further damage to mental health, with anxiety, frustration and alienation increasing as time passes.

Throughout Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County and Renfrew County, United Way East Ontario addresses employment disparities for vulnerable populations by bringing key community partners together and by investing in programs that ensure people achieve financial independence and stability.

Arches is a supportive employment program run by the John Howard Society that helps people facing increased barriers to employment, including addiction. They work with clients to figure out what their interests and strengths are and how they can best develop their skills and apply them to thrive in a meaningful career.

Building on personal strengths

Working directly with children can be physically and emotionally demanding, so this field suits energetic, self-reliant people who can take on challenges. Chantel discovered these qualities about herself as she received care for her substance use disorder.

While on her summer break from school, Arches supported Chantel in updating her resume and cover letter tailored to early childhood education, completing online job searches, and accompanying her to job fairs.

She credits the support she received for putting her on the path toward success: “With the help of Arches, I very soon found employment within my field.”

“Without the help and support of United Way, I don’t know if programs like the John Howard Society and Arches would be available for people like me – people who are coming out of really dark times.”




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The partnership between LiveWorkPlay and United Way, through the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN), demonstrates the positive change that can be achieved when organizations join forces to promote inclusivity.

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