Jul 18 2010
Theresa Schrader was a terrible loser.
But it wasn’t losing her home, her family or her dignity to a life of addiction and the streets that tore her apart.
It was losing two babies to children’s aid that she couldn’t bear.
So four years ago, when she discovered she was pregnant for a third time, Schrader decided to become a winner.
“That was the day I decided to take back my life,” says the former addict, who spent a decade living on Toronto streets.
Today, Schrader, 34, is the proud mother of an inquisitive and energetic 3-year-old boy. She has just aced her first year of social work at George Brown College. And she has landed her first “real” summer job, which she created herself and pays a handsome $2,600 a month.
If all goes well — and she is determined to ensure it does — Schrader hopes to turn her job running a summer school for the homeless into a career.
She got lots of help along the way.
Her first big break was winning a creative writing contest run by Ve’ahavta, a Jewish charity that helps the vulnerable in Toronto, Canada and abroad.
The contest, which encourages the homeless to write about their experiences, connected Schrader to a network of services and mentors, such as charity founder Avrum Rosensweig, who helped her launch the Ve’ahavta Street Academy. It has 11 students this summer, she says.
Nazareth House, a shelter for pregnant, street-involved women, offered sanctuary, and “an army” of street nurses worked to ensure Schrader had a healthy pregnancy and birth.
The Yonge St. Mission offered Schrader safe, subsidized housing and a child care centre next door gave her son quality early learning experiences while she worked to put her life back together.
But Voices from the Street and its coordinator Mike Creek — a cancer patient who lived in poverty himself for more than a decade — was her inspiration.
“That was the program that helped me believe in myself,” she says. “He helped me believe that I could go back to school and become something better.”
Now Schrader is taking the Voices model and spreading the hope to others in her Street Academy. The 12-week, $25,000 program she designed and directs, is funded by Ve’ahavta and will include a variety of guest speakers, including Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean.
“My welfare days are over,” she says triumphantly.
Credit: Toronto Star