She remembers feeling like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders: dead-end jobs with odd hours and little pay because she had left high school before giving birth to the first of four children; a divorce and bills and beautiful little faces looking up at her each day; and a lifetime of believing she did not matter. But it was spring. There was some light in the kitchen that afternoon, and the sense that something else was possible.
A friend on the phone had ‘been there’ recently and knew what Patience Leavitt needed to do.
“You need to go to Community Futures. I’m going to take you.”
Leavitt’s friend picked her up, drove her downtown and opened door after door until Leavitt landed in a chair across from Vicki Roraph, the now-retired facilitator of the Bridges program. Bridges is an eight-week, group workshop for women overcoming obstacles with life and employability skills. It’s one of many workshops offered through the local WorkBC Employment Services Centre.
Roraph happened to be interviewing applicants that day. Leavitt told Roraph everything. Roraph told Leavitt about another woman who had four kids, participated in the program and went on to get a good job. Now that woman’s family was safe and free and moving forward.
“I was ready to cry. I wanted to be a successful person who could stand on her own two feet, because that’s not who I was at that point.”
At the end of their impromptu meeting, Roraph told Leavitt she would call and let her know if she’d been accepted.
The call came. It was good news.
“I was happy but I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew it was an opportunity and I had hopes and my hope was to find the missing pieces of myself. I wanted to feel complete and whole again. I remember hoping for that.”
Finding the Capacity to Change
Each day began with an inspirational quote. Leavitt hung on to those quotes, took in lungfuls of them to last until the next day. One was: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
“I was so ready. I was glued to the instructors. Glued to the materials. It was like, if I do not do this, I don’t know what’s next.”
An early, especially meaningful lesson inspired from one of those quotes was this: My circumstances are the result of my own actions.
“I had spent a lot of time blaming others. ‘This was done to me.’ At that moment I realized I am responsible, and I have the power to change. I’ve carried that with me since Bridges. If I don’t like something, I have the capability to change it.”
Once she accepted she had let others be in control of her life and that she could relinquish it, she says she began to see what she could accomplish. She was also introduced to the idea that if she acted as her own best friend, she would take care of and look out for herself.
Over the next eight weeks, Leavitt says Bridges gave her tools she didn’t know existed to face life’s scenarios, to succeed after leaving the program’s “cocoon.”
Skipping Over the Rainbow
She did not skip onto a rainbow after graduation.
“I definitely had that positive energy with me, but then I had far more struggles that year.”
The divorce was wrapping up. Her children were away half time for the first time. Financially, she felt like she was falling into a bottomless pit.
“I spent a few weeks trying to pull myself out of a funk, and I went back to the material from Bridges. She returned to a Cynthia Occelli quote given to her by her Case Manager, Penny Monkman:
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
“I saw that I didn’t like my circumstances, and I said to myself, “One, this is the most broke I’m ever going to be; two, I’ll do whatever it takes because I can; and three, I trust myself. My fear came from not trusting myself.”
Leavitt worked. She went to school. She finished Grade 12 and discovered she was a great student with a passion for learning and for law. Another WorkBC career planning program showed Leavitt would suit management, and she applied for the business administration program at Okanagan College. She was accepted, but at the very same time, the employer she’d been working for as an administrative assistant offered her a full-time position with opportunities to move up in the company, which leads the building of hospitals. She accepted the employment offer, and within weeks was made a project manager.
“I’m still new at it but the company has given me an amazing opportunity, so I’m excited to see how far I can take it, and charge ahead and reach higher.”
Today, Leavitt is not afraid to dream of what’s ahead, both for her and for her family.
“My parenting relationship with my kids is so much brighter. I have a lot more positive messages and I’m able to empower them and help them understand how to resolve conflict. I have confidence now that I can raise my kids in a way that will help them be successful.”
Would you or a woman you know benefit from life and employability skills workshops to help overcome obstacles and gain employment? To find out more information on the next intake of the Bridges program, contact the WorkBC Employment Service Centre at 250-545-2215 ext. 230.