By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Last month, Taber resident Melissa Duggan graduated from Lethbridge College with a diploma in Child and Youth Care.
“I always wanted to go to college or university, but I became a mother shortly out of high school and decided to devote my time to being a mother to my three beautiful daughters,” Duggan said. “During COVID, I was working as an education assistant in Horizon School Division and I started seeing a need for more mental health care in our schools and in my own home. I did not know how to help but I knew I wanted to help! I started looking into programs and courses to take on my own time and came across the Child and Youth Care Diploma program at Lethbridge College. It sparked such an interest in me that I started reevaluating life and made the decision to leave my Educational Assistant job and enroll in the program.”
Duggan emphasized that during her time at the college, she felt supported by the staff and community in her learning and home life. Duggan says that she also did some work with Wellness Services and was in a group that worked on a Life Promotion plan, otherwise known as a Suicide Prevention Program, that is focusing on the Indigenous ways of knowing.
“The idea there was that if an individual has four pillars in their life met, Meaning, Purpose, Belonging and Hope, then they will be engaged in life and not feeling like they do not want to be here anymore,” Duggan said.
One thing Duggan says she has learned in the program is using a strength-based approach when working with children and families. Through this learning, Duggan says, she can look back at all the trials and hard times and see the lessons and learning from them rather than view them through a resentful lens.
“All the good and bad have made me into the person I am today, and I am content and happy,” Duggan said. “What more can a person ask for than that?”
Now that Duggan is graduated from the program, she says she plans to continue her education at Lethbridge College in the General Arts and Sciences for the next year in order to obtain the necessary credits in order to attend the University of Lethbridge.
At the University of Lethbridge, Duggan says she plans to pursue the Bachelor of Social Work program through the University of Calgary that is offered at the U of L. Her hope, Duggan says, is to eventually obtain her master’s degree in social work.
“I hope to one day return to the school system as a counsellor so that I can help youth manage mental health and achieve mental wellness,” Duggan said.
As she has pursued her educational goals, Duggan feels blessed that she has had a community of support around her in Taber.
“My family, friends, and children have all helped me as I have walked this journey so far,” Duggan said. “There have been many people and organizations in Taber that have supported me since I moved here from British Columbia 20 years ago and I would not be where I am today without all the support.”
Duggan says she also seeks and gives support by playing in a wheelchair basketball team in Lethbridge called the Lethbridge Steamers alongside others with unique abilities. Duggan says she finds joy in helping others play adaptive sports and be active.
“Something I try to live by, and I encourage others to strive for in their lives,” Duggan said. “Be the reason someone feels welcomed, seen, heard, valued, lived.”
Duggan admits that going back to school at the age of 38 with three teenage daughters at home was daunting to think about and she doubted her ability to be able to rise to the challenge.
“My children and my family have loved the saying from the movie ‘Lilo and Stitch’,” Duggan said. “Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind. I think that encompasses how we feel about family in the sense that my family is close to one another; we accept and love each other no matter what. My children gave me direction and a purpose and the love I have for them is the compass for my life. As long as I was being a good mom to them I was wandering in the right direction.”
Duggan truly realizes and acknowledges that life and all the things she had been through had prepared her for this task of going back to school at the age of 38.
“All the steps I have taken have led me to right where I need to be.” Duggan said. “The world would be a better place if we all practiced empathy for one another. When I am being hard on myself over something, I ask myself what I would tell a friend who was going through that and it is never a negative answer. This helps me reframe how hard I am being on myself and trains me to think more positively.”