Rick Zandbergen is a big advocate for the underdog.
It’s no wonder, since Rick is an underdog himself – someone who has overcome numerous obstacles in his life but has followed his dream regardless.
The 27-year-old, who has Asperger syndrome, has long dreamed of becoming a social worker.
Thanks to a lot of perseverance, hard work and support from some caring people and organizations, he graduated last year from Mohawk College’s Social Service Worker diploma program.
Rick has been selected as a 2018 Education Champion by the Education WORKS Alliance, after being nominated by St. Leonard’s Community Services in Brantford.
“You’re never alone. There’s help out there – you just need to look for it,” is the advice Rick would give to people who may be reluctant to follow their dreams.
Rick has had a tough journey to get a college diploma. His success is a testament to his incredibly positive spirit, hard work and to the help of people who’ve believed in him.
At the age of 16, Rick was homeless but was welcomed into the Youth Resource Centre that is part of St. Leonard’s Community Services in Brantford. It became his new home.
Within a year, he was living independently, able to rent a place when he qualified for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
Rick didn’t forget those who helped him and those who needed help. For many years, he was the biggest fundraiser for St. Leonard’s Youth Homelessness Week and he participated in the Out of the Cold’s sleep out, an event that raises awareness about this problem by having volunteers try sleeping outdoors.
Working as a volunteer with St. Leonard’s led to the birth of Rick’s dream of becoming a social worker. It also led to admiration from St. Leonard’s staff who have worked with him.
“He is a huge advocate for the underdog and wants to make the world he lives in better,” says Tara Kendall of St. Leonard’s, the staffer who nominated Rick as an Education Champion.
When Rick was accepted into college, he faced more barriers than most students. Since he receives ODSP, he was on an extremely tight budget. He doesn’t drive and couldn’t afford taking the bus daily from Brantford to Hamilton and back.
Rick relied on car pools to get to and from class, but wasn’t always able to make it. Rick received assistance from Mohawk’s accessibility office to help handle the school work, as he has learning difficulties.
Since he graduated from Mohawk, Rick has worked on a contract at the Brantford food bank, helping clients, but he is now looking for work in his field – which is helping others.
“I would love to find a great job in my field connecting people with the resources they need,” he says. “I went through ‘the system’ myself and understood how hard it was to find and use the resources available to me. I’d love to make it easier for others to access and use these same resources.”
Story by Mark Skeffington, Education WORKS Alliance