2021 Scholarship Recipients
At the age of 17, Alyssa’s world was broken when a cannabis-impaired driver killed her dad and uncle and injured herself. To help navigate the trauma and grief that ravished her and her family’s lives, they turned to MADD Canada for the provision of ongoing support and resources.
To honour the lives of her incredible dad and uncle, Alyssa has chosen to be actively involved in helping prevent other families from having to live through similar tragedies.
Alyssa explains that “When it comes to impaired driving, education and awareness are the first steps in prevention.” Over the past 2 years, Alyssa has worked closely with both MADD Canada and Weed Out the Risk, and has offered her time, story, and voice to help bring awareness to the impacts that impaired driving crashes have on the victims and survivors. It is Alyssa’s hope that by sharing her story, it will help others to understand the dangers associated with driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and help prevent other families from losing loved ones at the hands of an impaired driver. As Alyssa explains, “If my story can help even one person to think twice and stop themselves or a friend from getting into a vehicle while impaired, then that in itself could be saving a life.”
Alyssa is currently studying to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance, with a minor in Psychology, at Ryerson University. Upon completion of her program, she plans on dancing professionally while continuing her education in sports and performance psychology.
Clare wishes she did not have such a heartfelt story of resilience, but she accepts and embraces her story, as it is, and continues to work hard, persevere and even flourish. She inspires many with her open and positive mindset to create for herself the life of her dreams, finding the good in the hardships and obstacles.
In 2019, Clare experienced a close family death, by suicide. Cousin Andrew’s tragic passing brought on tremendous growth for Clare, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It took a few weeks of pain-filled grief to help her discover positive ways to cope. The more Clare talked with her mom about the concept of death and its unavoidable presence, the easier it became for her smile to return. She learned quickly that healing comes through feeling, not hiding or shoving down the emotions.
On September 28, 2020, Clare’s father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack and her life was changed forever. Unspeakable, deep pain consumed her and the days were a haze. She applied her new found coping skills and began talking about her feelings right away. Joining a grief support group has given her tremendous hope and an outlet for her heartache. At this time of mourning, COVID restrictions resulted in a positive twist. With her Mom and siblings at home full time during the pandemic, the family bond became stronger, the love grew and the healing began.
In the midst of grieving, Clare continued taking steps forward, still focused on meeting her goals. Queen’s Commerce, her top pick for university programs, became a reality – the acceptance arrived and Clare was ecstatic! She is looking forward to delving into the business world and pursuing her various career goals in the coming years.
Indu recognizes that the unexpected passing of her dad in 2019 due to his mental health battle with depression had a profound effect on her during her high school years. She emphasized the conflicting burdens grief has on young people by stating, “ I grieved this profound loss while trying to still live the life of a normal teenager. I experienced many complex emotions that were difficult to comprehend and process all while trying to navigate high school.”
Indu credits the professional assistance of a counsellor to help her work through her grief, emotions and anxiety, as well as the active support of her teachers who assisted her in overcoming new academic challenges. Indu is especially grateful for the love and encouragement provided by countless family and friends who continue to be present for her.
Indu reflected that remaining involved in activities, such as the school swim team, and participating in her community as a swim instructor and lifeguard were all important contributors to her healing. Eventually, all these aspects of her life enabled her to regain confidence and academic abilities once again.
Indu stated, “Although losing my dad at a young age created new difficulties in my life, it also taught me important life lessons that I could not have learned any other way.” It took Indu a long time to get to this point in her healing journey. She went on to say, “ I know that my perseverance of working through my grief and it’s challenges shaped me into the resilient individual I am today.”
Indu is embracing the next chapter of her life as she heads to her dad’s alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, in the fall to pursue a dual degree in computer science (BSc.) and business (BBA). Indu is looking forward to advancing her academics but is especially excited to discover new passions by immersing herself in university life.
As she moves into her young adult life, Indu remains devoted to her healing journey and self discovery. Indu knows her dad and the lessons his death taught her will continue to guide her through whatever obstacles she encounters.
Elham’s mother passed away when she was 16 after a short battle with a rare uterine leiomyosarcoma. Up until that point, they were inseparable. The seemingly sudden loss of Elham’s mother was not a part of the plan for an otherwise very plain, traditional, ordinary life. It was a difficult shock to process this quick loss because of how her mother and extended family chose to hide the illness through well-meaning wishes of nothing but positivity and hopeful prognoses. Taking no days off, Elham started her undergraduate degree specializing in Art & Art History at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College, with the goal of realizing her mother’s dream of working in the education system as a secondary school Art and English teacher.
In the years following, Elham wasn’t able to process her grief in a way that made sense to her. External pressures from familial expectations reached a breaking point, requiring Elham to take multiple semester-long breaks to recuperate spiritually, financially, mentally, and academically. She spent those breaks taking many steps backwards and forwards: she returned to her studies on a part-time basis, worked a lot, volunteered her time in ways that would strengthen her interests in visual art, education, and communication, as well as finding ways that honoured her mother’s legacy of extending kindness and a caring nature in whatever it is that she chose to do. A key turning point was discovering the benefit of seeing a therapist regularly and putting words to the feelings and confusions surrounding the weirdness of unpacking grief and loss. It was a decision that Elham didn’t know was an option, and a decision that she took for herself. It solidified the importance of putting her physical and mental health first before anyone or anything else.
Elham soon found that education isn’t quite the path she wanted to take anymore, and instead worked towards becoming a graphic designer and illustrator. She’s found early successes in doing so and has been lucky to have the opportunity to work at some national publications early on in her career.
Elham credits her dedication to her education and passions to her mother’s strictness and diligence in whatever it was that she did. It was through a lot of self-assessment, exploration, and extended kindness from others that Elham returned to her full-time studies with a renewed sense of academic and career-minded success. She is concluding her Bachelor of Arts degree double majoring in Art & Art History and English with a growing interest in considering graduate-level studies that somehow combine her passions in design, education, and communications. For now, Elham is happy to focus her attention on embracing the final semesters of her undergraduate degree; a journey that has taken 10 years and is a true testament to her resiliency.
Growing up, Sydney was a very high achieving individual, excelling as a student and athlete. Her mother, Marlene, was her idol and constantly supported her achievements. Beautiful, funny, and caring, Sydney’s mother was her number one supporter and raised her to have a solid work ethic, treat everyone with kindness and respect, and enjoy life to the fullest.
That all changed in 2013 when her mom was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. All of a sudden, Sydney’s world revolved around hospital visits, filling prescriptions, and taking care of her mother. Sadly, in May of 2014, her mother passed away. The absence Sydney’s mom left in her life was felt daily, in everyday small activities. She began to feel emotionally detached from everyone and everything. Accomplishments didn’t matter anymore. She distanced herself from friends and family, and was never home, as it reminded her of her mom.
Sydney attended McMaster University, where she recently graduated with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. Using her time at McMaster to address and process her grief, and begin her journey of self-love and self-acceptance, Sydney was able to make her mother proud as a high achieving student, with a strong record of professionalism and community involvement. With support from her father, sister and extended family, Sydney has demonstrated the remarkable outcome of what can happen when you’re able to come together, and try your best.
Sydney continues to make her mother proud as she continues her education at Yale University, where she will pursue her Masters of Public Health. Sydney will honour her mother by taking time to take care of herself, her family and by instilling values of gratitude and positivity.
When Faith was only four years old, her father passed from cancer. Faith describes the impact of the loss and how the vast part of her childhood memories don’t include her Dad’s physical presence. The missed opportunities of the role her dad would and should have played in her life growing up is a reality that will often arise when she is not expecting or prepared for it. She has come to know her father’s personality and love through open dialogue with family and friends, and this has allowed Faith to feel his compassionate and loving presence. Faith describes the unique challenge she has faced as she has grown older of guilt feelings that arise from not having her own direct memories of her Dad, yet having grown up feeling his absence in her life so acutely.
Born with bilateral cleft lip and palate necessitating a 20-year course of treatment, Faith has undergone multiple surgeries and therapies throughout her life. Due to the effect of these procedures on her physical appearance, she unfortunately experienced bullying. The emotional impact was heavy, yet it encouraged her to develop inner strength. She knows clearly who she is as a person and is dedicated to moving forward based on that positive foundation.
Faith credits her mother with having made her and her sister feel incredibly loved and for keeping her Dad’s memory very much a part of their lives. Faith has internalized this knowledge and her own health challenges to find resilience within herself, motivating her to live a life based on kindness, appreciation of simple pleasures and meaningful relationships.
Faith has been accepted into the Nursing program at Ontario Tech University and looks forward to serving children going through reconstructive surgery and being able to combine nursing skills with the compassion she has developed due to her unique firsthand experiences.
Rebecca describes herself as having a typical life growing up. She attended her local high school, went to rugby practices and enjoyed a stable family environment. This picturesque image changed instantly when her sister suddenly passed away. Rebecca described herself as experiencing a flood of emotions; feelings of anger, grief and hopelessness which she directed at the world, herself and the adults in her life. She expressed that her life came to a “screeching halt”.
Rebecca took the time she needed to work through her emotions. Eventually this time of self healing and acknowledgement of her loss provided her with renewed motivation. “Suddenly, my goals had personal and emotional reasoning, for every late-night studying and early morning in the gym. I wasn’t doing it for just myself but for those who had their lives cut short and for those who had to suffer a loss like I did.” Rebecca expressed that she eventually learned, with the support of her family and those close to her, to embrace change and use her emotions to nurture her passions and goals. She believes this allows those who have passed to continue to live on as part of your life.
Rebecca, stated “although on paper, I am back to where I was before I lost her…”, she realizes that self-care and tending to her own mental health are important aspects of healing that don’t necessarily appear on the surface.
Rebecca will be studying Biopharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Ottawa in September. She will also be playing for the University varsity women’s rugby team. Rebecca eventually plans on entering the field of pharmaceutical research to help create life-saving drugs. Her goals also include representing Canada internationally in rugby.
Dana’s father lost his lifelong battle with mental illness when she was only 7 years old. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide struggles with complex emotions, and this is only amplified when a child’s mind is forced to grapple with these unanswerable questions. Dana lived with these difficult emotions throughout her childhood and adolescence, eventually developing her own battles with depression and anxiety.
During her first year of University, her emotional state and sense of hopelessness escalated to the point that she was unable to fully engage in or enjoy life. Dana bravely asked for and received help, temporarily stepping away from her schooling in order to heal and regain control of her future. She successfully returned to school at Queen’s and was able to experience what she calls “some of the most joyful and fulfilling years of my life.”
Sadly, Dana experienced another shocking and unexpected loss in January 2019 when her boyfriend Josh passed suddenly. She continues to navigate this fresh grief with the unconditional support of her family, friends and “the love of two incredible men that I will carry with me always.”
Dana graduated from Queen’s University in June with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in English Literature. She will be attending Ryerson University in the fall to take part in their Literatures of Modernity MA program.
Dana states, “It may not be perfect, but I have fought very hard for this life, and I will live it fully for those who are with me, for those who can’t be, and most importantly – for myself.”
Ross describes his childhood growing up in Glen Williams as “idyllic”. His parents were supportive and involved in all of his athletic, academic and personal accomplishments. When Ross was 11, his dad, Dave, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Ross grew up quickly and the family came together to support Dave and each other through his illness. No sooner had they adapted when a short 14 months later, Dave passed. Ross describes the “wilderness of grief” that ensued and feels that his greatest accomplishment has been the relationships he has forged, particularly with his mom Amy and his two sisters; “I am most proud of what we have faced together, staring adversity and grief in the face.”
Ross has excelled in academics, athletics and stage productions and he states, “I know I have made both of my parents proud.”
Ross has been accepted to the Commerce program at Dalhousie University for the fall.
Meghan describes her family growing up as “strong, loving and seemingly unbreakable”, and idolized her older sister Emily and brother Taylor. In February of 2014 Taylor passed suddenly as a result of a snowboarding accident and her family was catapulted into very individual paths through their grief. Meghan very honestly states “our grieving process was spent adjusting and learning each other’s way of coping with the loss of Taylor. We all shared the same terrible loss but we each seemed to have very different ways of managing it.”
Meghan made a series of difficult choices, including changing schools in grade 10 and evolving in her thinking from not wanting anything to change to choosing to live in honour of Taylor and “encompass some of his incredible qualities.” As she was focusing on establishing goals for herself, she had a series of losses of other members of her extended family. She states, “these wonderful people wanted the world for me and now I want to experience the world for them.”
Meghan is in the Medical Radiation Sciences program at McMaster university. Her academic accomplishments as well as the compassion and presence she brings to the patients in her care, as well as the way she brings people together show the impact Taylor’s life and presence has had on the person she has become and on her choice to be resilient.
Maddison grew up admiring her dad, his contagious smile, easy humour and his gift with horses. Sadly, when Maddison was only 12 years old, her Dad passed away unexpectedly. She expresses gratitude for the outpouring of love and support for herself, her brother and her Mom as they dealt with the shock and disbelief that accompanied their grief. What really marked this time for Maddison was the lack of resources available for young people experiencing grief. She has gone on to focus a semester long school project on researching and developing some early grief resources for young people in an effort to help others in similar situations. She shares her father’s love of horses and volunteers her time with several community organizations, including horseback riding classes for people with disabilities.
Maddison will be studying Recreation Therapy at Waterloo in September. She states “living daily life and seeing milestones go by without my dad here will never be easy and I have accepted that but I have also made it my goal that I will help others, I will make him proud and he will forever live on through me.”
2018 Scholarship Recipients
Emily describes her three brothers as her support system, her whole heart and her world. She recalls how after their home burned down, her mom Cathy rebuilt a new home for them with what Emily describes as her “beautiful mind”. Sadly, the house fire was only the beginning of the adversity Emily was to face in her young life. When Emily was 11, her older brother James 13 and her younger brothers Nathan and Tristan just 6 and 5, their mom passed from a sudden and devastating infection. After her passing, Emily’s dad was unable to adequately care for the boys and Emily, still a child herself, stepped into this caregiver role and devoted herself to her brothers. Despite her best efforts, the children were removed from their father’s custody and Emily was faced with the reality that she would no longer be living with her brothers.
Emily wrote that “When we lost our mother, we lost warm arms and a kind voice, a contagious smile and our constant blanket of comfort, but most of all we lost the kind of love only an overworked, tired mother can supply”.
Through her teen years, Emily continued to focus on her relationship with her brothers while she worked hard in school and at her job. She learned to accept the love and support of people in her life, who were there for her unconditionally, giving her a place to live, loving her and helping to show her that she is so much more than her life circumstances. She describes her mother’s friends, some family members and her own friends as her “circle that is my rock”, stating “they are there for me through my fears, through my sadness and they share my happiness.”
Emily has remained dedicated to being present in her brothers’ lives. She attends Lakehead University in the Concurrent Education program.
Emily has been told many times how strong she is, but she herself would rather focus on how happy she is. She wrote “We struggle but we also thrive, and we find the things that make us happy. I live because others cannot and I love because I have people who also love me. And I am happy.”
Alicia Marrows is the middle child in her family, between her younger sister Rachel and her older brother, Jeremy. In May of 2014, when Jeremy was 21 years old, he was on a camping trip in Algonquin park. He went missing for two weeks after a canoeing accident and the search ended with the worst possible outcome. Her entire family, surrounded by Jeremy’s friends, cycled between hope and fear for those two interminable weeks. At this time of unbearable pain and grief, Alicia focused on her younger sister Rachel, who was only 11 at the time and idolized Jeremy. She also focused on her parents, ignoring her own grief and healing.
Alicia’s journey through grief’s emotional turmoil was happening at the same time she was finishing her final year in high school and starting her freshman year at Seneca College studying Behavioural Sciences. With the best of intentions and trying to “be strong”, she pushed through and completed her program in 2016. Having experienced so many changes in such a small amount of time, she never took the time to allow herself to process her loss, and her feelings surrounding Jeremy’s death. Then it all caught up with her. Her unprocessed grief came crashing down on her and she lost her focus, her motivation and her way. Still desperately trying to “cope”, she sought help from many traditional and non-traditional sources.
A turning point for Alicia came when she herself turned 21, the age Jeremy was at the time of his accident. She refocused on her need to heal herself, finding resilience within both herself and through her love for Jeremy. This is what led her out of the dark space of deep grief. Believing that she is living and experiencing life for both herself and her brother, allows Alicia to carry on and find happiness.
After working as an Educational Assistant and learning from children who face adversity every day, she found a new focus for her own future. She attends Seneca College in the Honours Bachelor of Behavioural Psychology program. Alicia also plans to one day honour Jeremy’s memory by helping other people as they cope with loss and grief.
Malcolm has faced multiple adversities in his young life, beginning with a tenuous family situation. His mother struggled with drug addiction and serious health issues and as a preschooler Malcolm was removed from her custody and placed with his grandparents, who faced struggles of their own.
Although Malcolm’s Mom faced difficulties with her addiction that unfortunately affected her eligibility for the kidney transplant that she required in order to save her life, Malcolm passes no judgment on her. He recalls telling his mom as an 11-year-old that as soon as he was old enough he would give her one of his kidneys. Sadly, his mom passed only months following this conversation.
Malcolm describes the time he lived with his uncle as the first time he had experienced a genuine family. However, at age 14, Malcolm’s uncle placed him in foster care for reasons that Malcolm does not understand but has accepted. He continues to have a relationship with his aunt and uncle. Instead of becoming bitter and resentful, however Malcolm chose to continue to make the best of his life circumstances, becoming involved in sports and experiencing teamwork and the support of friends, teachers, coaches and his Social Worker. He has been involved in the Mentor Program at Christ the King, providing support and listening to younger students who are struggling with various challenges. Malcolm has used his life experience to help others to find their way. This is true resilience.
Malcolm speaks with such warmth in his letter to us of his foster Mom, Maggie Secord, who has treated him in a way that he feels truly cared about. He expresses such genuine gratitude to all the incredible people who have supported him along the way.
Malcolm attended the University of Windsor and will be continuing his education in the field of Social Work.
Eion Campbell Memorial Scholarship
Eion’s Dad Kevin passed unexpectedly when Eion was only six. His mother Andrea raised Eion and his older brother Richard to be compassionate young men who knew from a young age what matters most in life. Eion formed enduring and meaningful relationships with those close to him and cared about how others felt.
When Eion was 16 he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. He bravely faced chemo and radiation along with their painful side effects, never complaining and always remaining sensitive to the fact that his suffering was incredibly difficult for his family and friends to witness. Never one to feel sorry for himself, Eion was always ready with a funny comment or one-liner to put others at ease.
Remission meant a return to high school then on to Algonquin college to learn the plumbing trade, where Eion further increased his circle of friends and continued his involvement in sports. He was a genuine listener, accepting of each person’s individual experience and choices, his favourite phrase being “You do you.”
At the age of 20, Eion was diagnosed with leukaemia and once again had to endure months of intensive treatment to battle this disease. A bone marrow transplant was his best hope and the joy of finding a perfect match was quickly shattered by the discovery that a second, more aggressive form of leukaemia had set in. His only remaining treatment option was a clinical trial in which he received a stem cell transplant from his mother, Andrea.
Eion remained hopeful and positive throughout this uncertain time, providing support and connection to his family and friends, however in January of 2018 his disease progressed and his doctors informed him that his prognosis was poor. Eion faced this news with grace and calm, telling each of his close friends individually and participating in a Casino weekend of fun with his friends. Only three days later, on January 23, Eion passed away.
Eion was the essence of resiliency, lived his life true to his genuine nature and has left an indelible mark on the lives he has touched. In honour of Eion, a Resiliency Scholarship was awarded in 2018 to someone who had faced difficult personal adversity.
Recipient of the Eion Campbell Memorial Scholarship:
Ruby is a Georgetown resident attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, studying Sociology and Social Anthropology with a certificate in Disabilities Management.
Ruby suffered childhood sexual abuse and, after the legal system failed to provide justice, her experience was dealt with through secrecy and silence, leading to many encounters with therapists, doctors and counselors over the years. Ruby’s childhood trauma was reignited during her second year of university when she experienced recurrent trauma. Once again she accessed the traditional avenues of support, however despite doing her best to follow the treatments and advice of the experts, she found herself coping as best she could with medication side-effects as well as social isolation.
From this low place, Ruby sought out resources that she felt resonated with her own experience and slowly built up her resilience. She “learned the distinction between fault and responsibility and accepted that although what was done to me was not my fault, it was my responsibility to choose recovery.”
Through her determination to heal herself, she has healed and deepened the relationships with those closest to her and has gone on to work closely with her Student Union at Dalhousie to create meaningful supports for students who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence. In future, she hopes to develop and teach workshops on how to use writing, art and personal expression to heal from traumatic experiences. She wrote “I want to help people discover safe space within themselves.”
Ruby eloquently stated, “I will always carry the ghosts of all the broken versions of me, but instead of feeling bound to them as if they can still weigh me down, I carry them with all the lessons they have taught me and as a reminder of all the pain I will never need to feel again, because I am resilient.”
2017 Scholarship Recipients
Nathan Williams was awarded the inaugural Zach Sutherland and Kaya Firth Resiliency Scholarship. A student at CTK High School, he is continuing his education at Ryerson University in the RTA Media Production Program. At 18 years old, Nathan is an incredible young man and although he has faced more adversity in his young life than most people experience in a lifetime, it is his response to these ongoing adversities that really resonated with us. Through a willingness to recognize and deal directly with all aspects of his compounded pain and loss of his parents and beloved grandparents, he has committed to a lifelong process of personal growth. Having experienced deep loss at a young age, he acknowledges the grief process is highly individual and unique to each person and set of circumstances.
Nathan himself emphasized very eloquently how in telling his story, he is willing to share enough background to give context, but wants to focus on the resiliency, not the tragedy, as that is where healing happens. Despite his losses, Nathan has found purpose and meaning in his own life and a desire to help and support others, which is exactly the hope we wish to inspire in other young people.
Nathan describes the journey through grief to resiliency as often like a rollercoaster and feels that being willing to ask for and accept help from family, friends and counsellors that you can trust helps to deal with the inevitable ups and downs. Grief is an individual journey, but is not one that must be travelled alone. He states, “I have learned that to ask for help does not come from being weak, but rather shows that I am strong enough to know I don’t have all the answers myself.” Nathan no longer allows his unfortunate circumstances to define him but rather choses to incorporate his personal growth from his losses in making him the motivated, vibrant young man he is today. Nathan’s devoted aunt and younger sister are also incredibly proud of him.
A lifelong resident of Guelph, Emily studies biological science at the University of Guelph. When Emily was just 12 years old, her older brother Aaron died by suicide. She shared a close sibling bond with him and describes him as her role model. Sadly, within 18 months of this tragedy, she also lost both of her grandparents. Despite strong support from her parents, these losses plunged Emily into a state of hopelessness where she was unable to envision a positive future for herself.
Emily found her resiliency by choosing to “take time to grieve and to have the courage and strength to allow myself to experience painful emotions. I knew that if I wanted to heal from the pain and to stop hiding in a shadow of quiet darkness that I needed to stop running from the sadness.” By allowing herself the time and space to feel her grief, she came to understand “that if I wanted to create meaning for myself amidst my overwhelming sadness I needed to continue to be involved in activities that reflected my values and interests.” Emily believes “one aspect of resiliency is being able to continue living a meaningful life amidst one’s grief by having the courage and strength to be engaged in the community, so sadness is not the only thing that defines you.” By finding ways to engage in life on these new terms while making space for her painful emotions, Emily has given back to her community through volunteer activities, her beautiful writing and speaking presentations. Having the courage to share the story of her grief experience in such an authentic way has already undoubtedly helped others with their own. “I am grateful that I now deeply understand the importance of deliberately making choices to surround myself with kind and caring people and to engage in activities that help others. The pain from the loss of my brother Aaron will always be a part of who I am, but the beauty of resiliency is that I have learned to find peace in my sadness.”
Emily has found great healing through writing and has her own blog in which she openly and generously shares her grief journey. Visit Emily’s blog https://growingthroughgrief.weebly.com/