“I enjoy life more. Now I laugh and I smile.” It’s a long way from where Venus was this time last year.
The single mother of three had no money. She had just left an abusive relationship. Without a home, she crammed into any space a friend could offer or stayed in Toronto shelters.
That’s where she learned about WoodGreen and Homeward Bound, and she says her life changed forever.
Daily struggle leaves no time for future goals
“When I heard about this program I almost fell off my chair.” The 33-year-old could hardly believe someone would help her upgrade her skills, give her a safe and comfortable home, provide child care, offer counselling and pay for a college diploma; all things she thought were forever out of her reach.
“When people live with these kinds of challenges it becomes so overwhelming and emotionally difficult and stressful,” she says. “You’re worried all the time and don’t focus on life except to eat, sleep and breathe.”
The team at Homeward Bound started by assessing Venus' skills. She had previously taken two years of business management at Seneca College where she admits her grades were ‘terrible’. After withdrawing when she became pregnant with her first child, she spent the next decade raising children and working in various sales jobs.
After WoodGreen helped her complete her upgrading courses, Venus was able to enroll in a two-year college diploma program, fully funded by WoodGreen donors.
New building, new home, new hope
In February she and her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Elliott, moved into WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound building. She is still awaiting final custody rights to her older sons, ages five and ten, who fortunately live nearby. Venus says her two-floor unit is air-conditioned, comfortable and most importantly, safe.
“It’s amazing. It’s so life-changing. You become independent. You are doing things the way you want to do it and have your own rules and freedom for your children. It just feels so much better.”
Prior to Homeward Bound, Venus had spent so much time caring for her young children that there wasn’t much time or energy to change her life for the future. Elliot is now in daycare nearby, also at no cost to Venus.
“It feels like I can actually focus on school and my goals,” she says. “It really motivates you to do better.”
‘They support you in every way’
Venus says the space to breathe she’s been given through Homeward Bound has had unexpected – overwhelmingly positive – consequences in her life, and that of her son, Elliott.
“I feel like I get to spend really meaningful time with him and be in the moment and enjoy him.”
The therapy and counselling she’s received through WoodGreen have taught her so much about herself, she says, and just why it was so hard to escape the relationship and life she had before Homeward Bound.
“They support you in every way. They provide everything you need.”
Creating a community of mothers
That includes a community of 16 mothers and their children who all began Homeward Bound together and who Venus says have now created a village of their own.
“I feel very connected to them,” she says, smiling. “I know how it feels to not be accepted by society and while we all have had different life challenges, we ended up as this one group and are so accepting of each other.”
The support Homeward Bound provides has made all the difference for Venus, who has already completed two semesters of her Early Childhood Education diploma at George Brown College.
“I’m an honours student! All my grades are A plus,” she says with a note of pride in her voice. “I’ve never done so well in my life. It really motivates me.”
Homeward Bound's impact on children
It also motivates her children, who she says see their mother in an entirely new light since she’s come to Homeward Bound.
“They see how their mom is so different, how I’m excited about life. I’m smiling. I’m putting so much effort into them. My children are happier,” she says. “It’s teaching my kids that you can change and you can do better and succeed.” A study of the impact of Homeward Bound on the children of participants found the happiness of children and their mothers was deeply connected.
Venus has three semesters left in her diploma and is due to graduate in April 2023. Then Homeward Bound will help her get a placement through a network of connected partners. Venus says her goal is to get a job and build a plan to move on from the Homeward Bound program. She says she has held on tightly to the opportunity Homeward Bound has given her and intends to make the most of it, determined not to return to her life before.
“When you’re out there, you feel hopeless, nobody wants to help you, society looks down upon you,” she says. “Homeward Bound completely changes your life. Suddenly somebody gives you an opportunity to breathe again. To have another chance at life again.”