Research, conversations allow two sisters to change poverty, policy in Canada

St. Joseph Srs. Sue Wilson, left, and Joan Atkinson had both been teachers before translating their social justice passions into advocacy. (Dana Wachter)

London, Ontario — Jennifer Vale didn't realize she was capable of joining a university class discussion until she sat in on a lecture 10 years ago by a sociology professor with a story like hers: She overcame poverty to become a university graduate.

That professor-turned-mentor encouraged Vale to apply to Brescia University College, but provincial policies dictate that Vale would lose her welfare benefits if she received student loans.

A single mom with a then-9-year-old son, Vale relied on Ontario Works to put food on their table. Even without formal higher education, the then-28-year-old knew the system that held her back from receiving an education wasn't fair.

Around the same time in 2007, London's Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada also saw the injustice and found a policy loophole that allowed religious institutions to fund a student's university or college studies as the recipient continues to receive public assistance.

St. Joseph Sr. Joan Atkinson said the sisters sold a building in London they used as a transitional house for women and used the funds from that sale to set up a bursary for single moms on welfare who wanted higher education.

Research, conversations allow two sisters to change poverty, policy in Canada

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