Crown wards earn scholarships, honours


Jason Francois and Leo Drepaul are friends and products of therapeutic foster care programs. They are also pursuing the same career goal for different reasons. They both want to be firefighters.

While Francois says he likes to take risks and use his hands to help people, Drepaul said that a vehicular accident two years ago inspired him to consider firefighting as a career option.

“Five of us, including two staff members from my group home, were in a car that overturned on a snowy day,” said Guyanese-born Drepaul, who graduated from Oshawa Central Collegiate. “I was stuck in the vehicle until a volunteer firefighter came along and pulled me out.

“There was a staff member from the group home who also became a firefighter and my role model. At first, I wanted to do nursing, but I have since changed my mind after the accident and knowing someone who is into firefighting and is encouraging me to do what it takes to get there.”

Drepaul, who came to Canada on a regular basis for six years up until 2001 when he settled here, has turned his life around after being in trouble with the law as a juvenile and separating from his family.

“He joined my pre-independent program in 2004,” said Durham youth worker Kurt West. “Leo is very ambitious and he’s an honour roll student who knows what he wants. He’s also very focused and he has come a long way in spite of the obstacles he has faced.”

West is also proud of 18-year-old Francois who came to Canada with his mother five years ago from St. Lucia.

Things did not work out well between son and mom. She returned to St. Lucia this year and he graduated from R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate & Vocational Institute in Oshawa. He is set to join Drepaul at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough.

Francois also made the Lake Ontario Secondary School Association all-star basketball team this year.

“Jason has done really well,” said West. “He’s very athletic and he excelled in basketball at his high school. He was also a good student in the classroom.”

Francois, who is renting West’s basement until he leaves for college in January, and Drepaul, who is now sharing a basement with a friend, were among 97 Crown ward students presented with scholarships and special recognition awards at the annual Hope for Children event at the University of Toronto’s Hart House last week.

The foundation has awarded more than $1.2 million in scholarships and special achievement grants in the past 13 years.

“This year’s economic climate has made it difficult for students to land summer jobs to pay for their post-secondary education,” said the foundation’s executive director Mary Bower. “The foundation’s scholarship program provides the vital emotional and financial support needed by youth in care to pursue an education.”

Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS) board director Dr. Joanne Turner reminded the young people that education is the key to opportunity.

“It’s about fulfilling your dreams, reaching your full potential and transforming your life,” she said. “Dream big dreams, make big plans, believe in yourself and never stop trying. Also, celebrate your achievements tonight as you move on your journey.”

Mellisha Johnson, who has been in foster care since she was six years old, and Pope John Paul 11 Catholic Secondary School graduate, Stephanie Boachie-Yiadom, were presented with special achievement awards. They will enter the University of Toronto this semester to pursue post-high school studies.

“These are incredibly strong young women who have made great strides over the years,” said social worker Schevana Baksh. “They are both very passionate and determined and extremely good role models.”

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