CCAS Youth is Advocate for Others
Gerald McBride is determined to prevent other youth from going through the same challenges he has faced and overcome. He was brought into foster care when he was just seven years old. He dropped out of high school when he was 17. He lived on the streets for two years but when he was 22 years old, he realized a post-secondary education would be the key to his success.
With the help of CCAS child protection worker, Louise Taylor, Gerald developed his life skills and gained access to peer support and counselling. He went back to school and entered a transitional program so he could start his post-secondary education at the University of Toronto.
Now in his third year, studying Diaspora Studies and Equity, Gerald has dedicated himself to providing the assistance to CCAS youth in care that he once needed. He understands first-hand, the struggles that youth in care face when pursuing a college or university career, while dealing with other personal and financial challenges.
Gerald volunteered at and now works for CCAS’s Hope for Children helping youth. This year, he assisted more than 100 Hope for Children scholarship applicants. Gerald phoned and emailed each applicant, helped write each biography, and managed RSVPs for the Hope for Children Scholarship Event.
Gerald also played an active role at the event. He added a personal touch, bringing a lot of heart to his work. He could be seen welcoming the scholarship recipients and coaching the youth co-hosts on their speeches. “I was a public speaker as a kid and I knew how to help the youth co-hosts bring their speeches to life,” says Gerald. “I wanted them to present to everyone in attendance so that they had a voice.”
The youth speeches were the highlight of the night. Jemmy’s story was particularly moving; she ended up in the care of CCAS after her mother physically abused her and her sisters. Gerald helped Jemmy prepare and build her confidence before her speech.
The Hope for Children Scholarship Program has made a huge difference for youth like Gerald and Jemmy. Statistics show that youth in care are less likely to pursue post-secondary education because of financial constraints. Forced to leave care at age 18, youth living on their own struggle to balance school, pay tuition, rent, and hold a job. “This scholarship has helped me tremendously. I use my scholarship money to buy books and groceries,” says Gerald. “It’s a good safety net to have.”
Jemmy agrees with Gerald and greatly appreciates the financial assistance she received from the Hope for Children scholarship program. “Post-secondary education has become so expensive that financial assistance from Ontario student loans doesn’t cover all of the costs of going to school. The scholarship I receive is not extra money. The funds we all receive have become a part of our survival in the post-secondary arena,” says Jemmy. “We fight with our budgets everyday to make sure that we have another day, and another year of school. There is no Mommy and Daddy to call for a top-up.”
Since Gerald started working at Hope for Children earlier this year, he has developed strong relationships with many of the youth that CCAS serves. “Giving back is my way of saying thank you for all of the help I received from CCAS,” said Gerald. “Every time I pick up the phone and have a conversation with a kid, I get satisfaction knowing that I was able to be there.”
Gerald’s role is quite extensive. “I’ve done everything from coach a single mother about applying for OSAP, to organizing a moving truck for a kid that needed to move, to meeting someone for coffee because they were having a bad day,” he says. He has also participated in CCAS’s public engagement campaign, appearing in our annual report and other materials to help others by telling his story.
Many of the duties that Gerald performs are not in his job description, but fellow youth see him as a mentor and a friend. “These kids are like me. They call me because I am their friend. I am whatever that kid needs me to be,” says Gerald. “I genuinely love what I do. It gives me a great sense of pride. I will continuously strive to help these youth.”
Gerald doesn’t want to see other youth on the streets. “I do this because I don’t want kids to go through what I did. I was given an amazing opportunity and I was taught never to waste it,” said Gerald.