Written by Ken McIntyre
If Caitlin were to be described in one word, it would be resilient. Caitlin is one of the fortunate youth to overcome numerous challenges she endured early in life to become a compassionate, optimistic and independent spirit. Now almost 21, she is a young woman with a bright future awaiting her. She has been in the Marymound Independent Options Program (IOP) since she was 18 and considers Marymound to be her family.
A dark cloud loomed over Caitlin at birth. At 10-months-old she became an official ward and was placed into foster care. Too young to realize, she assumed her foster parents were her birth parents, so when Caitlin was removed from their care at age six due to family addiction problems, it had a profound effect. “When they [Child and Family Services] took me away from my [foster] parents, it traumatized me for a very long time,” says Caitlin.
A ray of hope shined on Caitlin as she was soon placed into another foster home in the north end of Winnipeg. “I was taken away, but put into the best possible situation with Lisa and Chris who I consider my parents today,” says Caitlin.
An added bonus of being parented by Lisa and Chris was that Caitlin was reunited with her older biological sister who has autism and has significant challenges “Lisa and Chris were great, as I was a confused six-year-old and they quickly understood my fears and made me feel right at home.” Caitlin was thrilled to be with her sister who she never got to live with previously, and gave of herself endlessly. “My sister had it far worse than me in the system. She is my world. Anything she needs, I will do for her.” Caitlin did this while addressing her own mental health issues.
“For the next six years, it was the best time as not too much happened,” says Caitlin. She went to elementary school every day with her sister and parents (who were teachers). As a child with ADHD, Caitlin encountered challenges at school so her foster Dad exposed Caitlin to a variety of sports at which she excelled, as well as many other music and dance classes to help exhaust her excess energy. It wasn’t until after many trying times that her parents realized she also suffered from extreme anxiety at age 11.
When Caitlin turned 13, the darkness returned as her foster parents divorced and she had to leave the family, including her sister. This incredible trauma caused Caitlin to become suicidal when she was 15. As a result, she had a two-week stay in Marymound’s Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) and managed to recover quickly. She then had brief stints in various group homes, a hotel, and finally a mentored living home for a year and half. “This is where you go before entering the Independent Living Options Program,” Caitlin explains.
After a year and a half of hard work and dedication, Caitlin built up the requirements to enter Marymound’s Independent Options Program and got her very own first apartment where she has thrived ever since. Caitlin is independent, manages her home, personal life and financial budget without the need for support.
She also entered the Marymound Student Work Experience Program (SWEEP) and excelled working the hotdog cart. “Just because you are born in a bad situation, doesn’t mean you have to be that way. I know I am able to succeed and do it on my own. I know I have supports. Marymound made me realize my potential and the times when I wanted to give up, if it wasn’t for everyone, I would have so I am very thankful. They made me realize it’s OK to feel weak and reach out for help.”
Marymound is like family to Caitlin. She has gone to hockey games with staff, met two of her best friends in the IOP program, and works tirelessly in the Marymound kitchen. “I had a recent anxiety attack at a Marymound function and six different staff came to my aid to comfort me. My IOP support worker Michele was my rock and the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The staff at Marymound understand me. That’s family.”
The clouds have parted and the sun is shining on Caitlin’s future. She is working in another CHCM Community of Service, at St. Boniface Hospital in the Café, and recently, promoted to a managerial role. She is still in touch with her foster parents and is thinking of her future for the first time. “Now I see myself having a job, growing up with my friends, having a house and being successful. I can see myself. I have a future, and it’s great.”