Hello once more! My name is Nikki, and I’m a first-year Social Work Student working with the VAD as part of my field placement. Coming to the end of my first year, I’ve been given the opportunity to look back on my education all the way back to high school.

I grew up in a small town fifteen minutes outside Leduc, surrounded by farmland and conservative views. It’s where I spent my entire middle school and high school years. Growing up in such a small town filters out many real-world situations. Growing up, we were unable to have presentations centered around living with disabilities. We were not able to listen to someone’s first-hand experience about the hardships they’ve been through; about the struggles they’ve faced or how badly society has failed them. For the majority of my life, I never grasped the true struggles that everyday life could be for someone living with a disability. Had I not chosen the path that I have, I may not have ever realized it. It seems like an anomaly of a situation, but unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve heard of any school in Leduc having these presentations either.

Social work was not my first option. Before I had even graduated, I had applied to the University of Alberta for a bachelor of art in Sociology. My focus wasn’t centered on the adversity plaguing not only Edmonton but all of Canada, it never registered as part of what I was meant to be learning. It was only after dropping out, taking a year, and talking with some relatives who’ve worked in the social work field that I realized I wanted to do that. After that, I began my journey. And part of that journey was working with the Voices of Albertans with Disabilities as a student. Since learning under the incredible advocates here, I’ve learned more than I ever imagined there was to learn. I’ve learned the harsh truths about the cacophony of problems lurking under the streets of Edmonton. It’s been educational and eye-opening.

I will take this with me as I continue my journey as a student and a future social worker. The lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have changed my core beliefs and values on a fundamental level. The people I’ve worked with have taught me more than any classroom could hope to do and I have plenty left to learn, but working with the disabled community has taught me that strength lies further than anything physical or mental. It’s a way of life they live daily, living as their own advocate and fighting through systematic discrepancies in every aspect of life. It’s inspiring to witness. So, as a student, I thank anyone who reads this for teaching me what my previous instructors failed to do. Perseverance, resilience and empowerment can be much more than a politician on television. It’s someone who’s found the will to get out of bed in the morning or another who’s stepped outside just for a breath of fresh air.

And those are the lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my career. Thank you for the chance and ability to learn your stories, help you, or even just write this little portion. You’ve all taught me more than the public high school education system has about what being an advocate really means.