Michelle Kaufman headshot

Michelle Kaufman

Through all the roadblocks to building a better life, this single mom has persevered — and triumphed.

“Every two or three months my worker from Contact North would send me an email to check in, and the check-ins were, I think, the biggest thing because it kept bringing me back to ‘What do I want to do?”

Nipissing East

Area of Study
Social Sciences

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Social Workers

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“It’s been spectacular having somebody in my corner”

Single mom Michelle Kaufman’s story of indecision and self-doubt, roadblocks and resilience will be familiar to anyone who’s ever tried — sometimes for years — to build a better life.

Michelle, who lives with her two kids, ages 6 and 8, in South River, had spent years as a child and youth contract worker for the local school board — where it takes eight or nine years to claw one’s way up to a permanent full-time position.

“I didn’t have an income according to the bank, for a mortgage or loans or anything,” Michelle recalls. “I had no benefits. I was really struggling as a single parent because in between contracts I would drop back to a supply EA.”

Trouble is, supply EAs get paid about $15 an hour and typically only work six-hour days. Bad weather and school bus cancellations meant there wasn’t much work at all for her in the winter.

Michelle knew things had to change. She wasn’t happy in her job. She couldn’t make ends meet. But the negative thoughts and self-doubt were paralyzing, and she couldn’t decide what road to take.

Eventually she reached out to Contact North | Contact Nord for help to make sense of the myriad options for online study.

“I had no idea, really, what I wanted to do,” Michelle says. “I was all over the place. I’d get interested in something, start investigating a bit, then I’d drop off the face of the earth. Every two or three months my worker from Contact North would send me an email to check in, and the check-ins were, I think, the biggest thing because it kept bringing me back to ‘What do I want to do?’

“For three years they kind of handheld me while I hemmed and hawed and jumped all over the place. Those regular check-ins were a godsend … until all of a sudden I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Michelle’s perseverance eventually paid off.

With support from Contact North | Contact Nord, she found a program that perfectly  complemented what she’d already been doing as a child and youth worker.

Now she’s working toward her Bachelor of Applied Science in Community Social Work as well as a Social Service Worker Diploma, and plans to graduate in winter 2025.

The roadblocks haven’t disappeared, unfortunately.

While juggling online study with her day job as an employment specialist, Michelle has had to cope with divorce, Internet that is little better than dial-up, even a broken leg — but Contact North | Contact Nord has been there, urging her to keep going.

Having access to a laptop (through Contact North | Contact Nord’s free student technology service) and the option to write exams at her local centre have really helped.

“Literally, every step of the way Contact North has held my hand, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have gone back to school if I didn’t have that extra support, because it’s so overwhelming,” Michelle says.

The direct impact Contact North has had on her life, she says, has been profound.

“They’ve helped me prioritize myself and my own future,” Michelle says. “That’s the biggest thing. Every time I’d be like, ‘I give up. I can’t do it. I’m going to drop out.’ They convinced me to take a lighter workload and stay in the program. Contact North was like, ‘It took you three years to register. If you drop out now, do you think you’ll ever try again?’

“The biggest thing is having that person to call. I’m a foster kid. I don’t have a lot of family to lean on. Having somebody to call and brainstorm with me on how to solve whatever the current hiccup is, is very, very helpful. It’s been spectacular having somebody in my corner. I know I’m their main priority and that’s been amazing.”

What also helps Michelle keep moving forward is her conviction that she’s pursuing the right career.

“When it comes to other people, I will fight tooth and nail. There’s nothing that’ll stop me from helping somebody. When you take the pain and suffering out of your own life and turn it into a positive to help others … it’s a superpower you’re using to help other people.”

Michelle hopes her story will inspire others who aren’t quite sure where to start.

“Keep going,” she says. “If you can’t find something that feels like a fit right now, keep trying. It took me three years and finally there was a program available that was a perfect fit to what I felt I wanted and I jumped on it before I could over-think my way out of it.”