Neola Husbands at her graduation. The former Catholic Children’s Aid Society ward is now studying commerce at McGill University. (Photo courtesy of CCAS)

Bright future beckons Hope for Children scholar

  • September 7, 2011

TORONTO - At 14 Neola Husbands decided she couldn’t continue living at home with her father and his new wife. At 18 she’s starting her second year at McGill University in Montreal, her first year in the bachelor of commerce program, while she shores up a business plan that she hopes will launch a career in fashion.

The bridge between a violent home and a bright future for Husbands has been group homes run by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.

On Aug. 22 Husbands was one of 100 former CCAS youth in care to receive a scholarship from the Hope for Children foundation. She planned to use the $2,000 she received for tuition — absorbing a small part of the burden of debt she would otherwise face as a university student with no parental support.

Foster kids graduate out of the children’s aid system at 18. At the age when most high school graduates are getting some help from their parents in realizing their post-secondary dreams, kids like Husbands have to make it on their own.


“Being able to pursue a post-secondary education is critical in helping youth break away from poverty and unemployment,” said Fernando Saldanha, fund development manager for the Hope for Children foundation.

Hope for Children gave out close to $200,000 in scholarships this year. It has awarded more than $2.5 million for post-secondary education since 1986.

Husbands is aware that her story is different from most foster kids.

“It’s the fact that I chose to be there,” she said. “It’s such a minor detail, but the fact that I said I myself have chosen this situation, it’s kind of an eye-opener. A lot of kids are not there by choice, therefore they have this bitterness.”

Husbands’ Regent Park home in downtown Toronto turned chaotic and violent when her father decided to marry.

“It was kind of an ultimatum. Either I go or she goes,” recalled Husbands. “I was kicked out of the house.”

A supportive neighbour called in the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. The social worker sat down with Husbands and her father to look at possible scenarios.

“I kind of took it upon myself to say it’s in my best interest not to live in the house,” she said.

The original temporary care agreement was extended several times before it was made permanent.

At 14, Husbands wasn’t entirely aware of the choice she had made when she decided on Catholic Children’s Aid as opposed to the larger Toronto Children’s Aid Society. It’s only now that she knows the CCAS exists to give children surviving a family crisis a context of faith.

She wasn’t looking for religion, but religion found her.

“Being in care, I did end up going to church with some friends in my group home,” she said. “After leaving my group home, I ended up being baptized. My belief was strengthened.”

Looking back, a place willing to accept and affirm her growing faith was important, she said.

“Being in Catholic Children’s Aid, if I was to pray it would be OK,” she said.

And prayer is part of her days as she arms herself for school and pursues her business plans.

“When I wake up I pray for strength. I pray that my goals coincide with God’s goals.”

In 2010, Husbands had a shot at being Miss Teen Canada. She had made it as far as Miss Teen GTA. It ended when she fell ill and wound up in hospital.

“It’s not as shallow as people think pageants are. It’s all about finding your inner beauty,” she said.

Since her pageant experience, Husbands has discovered she loves modelling. But she’s much less in love with the system of agencies that dole out jobs to models.

The business plan she is developing as she studies at McGill is for Oleta Jé Co., a different kind of modelling agency. With her own photo studio, fashion magazine and clothing line, she hopes to be able to guarantee work to models that sign with her.

Big plans don’t scare her.

“I feel like a lot of people, they go to school in order to find their career. I know where I want to be,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m going to school lost. I already hired myself.”

Comments (1)

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We have a tribunal order against this charlatan, Neola Husbands. It is quite disturbing and worrying to know that this immoral person has been working for Catholic Children’s Aid Society. For heaven sake, please do not allow this criminal...

We have a tribunal order against this charlatan, Neola Husbands. It is quite disturbing and worrying to know that this immoral person has been working for Catholic Children’s Aid Society. For heaven sake, please do not allow this criminal individual to work with or even approach children.

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