Winning the Miss GTA Teen crown was a defining moment in Neola Husbands’ young life. It proved that she possessed beauty, talent, confidence, eloquence and discipline to successfully compete on stage. It has also provided her with a platform to help young people understand that they can conquer the odds.
As a young immigrant, the Guyanese-born confronted the same cultural shock that most newcomers face in a new society. She also entered foster care two years ago following family differences.
She and her father, two brothers and a sister, migrated here nearly a decade ago. Her mother, who remained in Guyana, has a terminal disease.
Despite the challenges and heartaches, Husbands has emerged from Regent Park, where she lived with her family for seven years, to be a pageant winner, role model and successful student.
She says that the stumbling blocks she encountered have helped to make her a stronger and better person.
“Being placed in foster care taught me that I had to do much more for myself because I was on my own,” she said. “There is a perception out there that kids in group homes don’t do well and seldom turn out to be productive citizens. I wanted to prove that that was completely wrong…My marks went down during the transition to foster care because that was a very rough period going into a new and totally strange environment, but I worked hard to get them back up.
“The culture shock I faced was also staggering for someone like me coming from a small community (Linden) when I was just seven years old. And there was pressure to become a product of the environment that I found myself in, but I did not come here to fail despite the barriers and hurdles that were placed in front of me.”
Husbands is going to be busy this spring and summer. She is one of 64 contestants who will take part in the Miss Teen Canada pageant in July just months before she heads off to the University of British Columbia in September to study psychology.
“I chose to go out to B.C. because I like to explore new places,” she said. “It will take me to another part of Canada which is also beautiful and I will get the chance to build new relationships and networks.”
She plans to visit her ailing mother before heading off to university.
“I returned to Guyana for the first time last year since I have been here and it was difficult seeing my mother in the state that she is in and knowing what she is going through,” said Husbands. “It’s hard, but I am determined to make her proud of me. That’s what keeps me going and striving to do positive things.”
The Wexford Collegiate School of Arts Grade 12 student and Pathways to Education mentor is also planning a benefit concert to be held in May. Proceeds from the youth-focused event will go to Habitat for Humanity and Free the Children.