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2017 Champion Barbara O'Toole

Second Career helps woman get back on track

After years of turmoil and loss, Barbara O'Toole is now back on her feet, thanks to new education and skills, which have led to a new job.

Barbara-O'Toole - for websiteBarbara now works at a personal support worker (PSW) at Charlotte Villa in Brantford. But how she ended up in a job she loves is a story with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs – a story that is a testament to personal determination.

Barbara has been selected as a 2017 Education Champion by the Education WORKS Alliance, after being nominated by St. Leonard's Community Services.

About six years ago, shortly after her husband passed away, Barbara lost her job of 18 years when the plant she worked in closed down. Then other members of her family became terminally ill: her brother, sister and mother. She cared for each of them before they passed away.

Members of the nursing team, seeing Brenda care for her family members, suggested she look into the PSW program. Her sister, just before she died, talked Barbara into actually doing it.

Barbara went to St. Leonard's Community Services in Dunnville, where she lived at the time, and learned about Second Career, a government program that helps fund people laid off from their jobs to go back to school to launch new careers.

Soon after, Barbara came to the difficult decision to sell the Dunnville home she loved, as she could no longer afford the mortgage. She moved to Brantford, thinking her luck would change and she would be able to find work, but to no avail.

Barbara, now 56, was approved for the Second Career program, and enrolled in Medix College of Healthcare in Brantford, learning first aid, CPR, palliative care and how to be a PSW. She graduated in last Fall.

"Going back to school after 35 years was hard," she says. "I had to learn how to study all over again, using new words and understanding the health language."

Barbara worked hard, used her medical dictionary to learn the language, studied her textbooks and asked lots of questions.
"To achieve what I did and sticking to it, I'm proud of myself. I wished I did this in my earlier years."

Today, Barbara would tell other people that going back to school is worth it, and that people don't have to do it alone. "There is help out there, you just have to ask and look for it. Just don't give up."

Story by Mark Skeffington, Education WORKS Alliance

Photo by The Expositor