12/06/2013 03:08 EST | Updated 02/05/2014 05:59 EST

Pathways out of Poverty: My Personal Experience

I lived in poverty growing up. I dealt with social issues no child should ever have to deal with: bullying, low self-esteem and self-confidence, and their impact of my grades. My father unexpectedly passed away when I was 12 years old, and as a result, my mother worked two jobs to support my sister and me.

She worked two jobs, often 16 hours a day... but would still stay up with me to do homework, and come out with me at 4 a.m. every morning for a newspaper route. I didn't even think about asking my mom for designer clothes or expensive books. I knew she already felt guilty for not being able to provide those things that other kids were getting. But looking back on that, I realized that those things don't even matter. I was dealing with grief and poverty, which are so much more prevalent than clothes and shoes.

My teenage years were difficult. But they made me the person I am today.

I could've gone either way. I was raised in a close-knit community where it was taboo to think about poverty and lack of success. I was one of those thousands of youth at risk who could have easily delved into alcohol, drugs, crime. And the only reason I didn't was because my mother raised me with her good values. And she made the best decision when she enrolled me with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton, a funded partner of United Way of Alberta Capital Region.

I was matched with a wonderful big sister, supported by great staff, and earned a CIBC Youthvision Scholarship. My life was changed forever when I found out I had won the scholarship! For the first time, I didn't have to worry about money; I could focus on myself and my education.

Today, I work as the Manager of Fund Development at the same agency that supported me through my most difficult years -- Big Brothers Big Sisters -- now known as BGCBigs.

There are many families battling poverty, right here in the Alberta Capital Region. Families that may be closer to you than you think -- they may live right next door. In fact, 120,000 people in our community live in poverty and 37,000 of them are children.

Poverty is a complex issue and once you are in it, it's hard to overcome. By supporting United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, you can help ensure that families like mine are able to get the support they need, so they are able to provide the basic necessities like food and shelter.

What's so wonderful about our United Ways approach is that they are working to create pathways out of poverty. Creating sustainable solutions that help individuals and families to be successful in life - ultimately with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty. When you give to United Way, you are contributing to results focused solutions - not a band-aid solution.

United Way and its community partners focus in income, education and wellness to create a long-term sustainable change; from early childhood development to high school completion; from homelessness to long term housing; looking at the root causes of poverty and the greatest impact possible, you're empowering people to be the best they can be.

I've learned that charity is a wonderful thing in our life because it's one person giving to another. And the best form of charity that any person can receive is a hand up, not a hand-out, the chance to improve their own circumstances. That's what United Way and BBBS has done for me and my family. I'm grateful for the opportunities I have now - if it hadn't been for a community that cares and a community that embraces change, I would not be able to enjoy a life that is rich and full - a life of ensuring other young people have the same chances I did.

What kind of difference can you make? Please take the time to look at the website and support by signing the statement to end poverty or donating to the cause.