Single Parenting, School and Sobriety: Heather Lamb Got Help and Became a Helper
“Fourteen years ago, I was a single mom of three kids and I was like, ‘What am I gonna do with my life?” It all worked out,” shares Heather Lamb. She grew up in the Northwest Territories, a member of Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, and has been working for Bow Valley College as an Indigenous learner success advisor for a year now.
To prepare her for this work, she went to college in Fort Smith to get a management diploma, then to the University of Lethbridge to get a management degree. Her children were young at the time and her parents lived in Lethbridge so it was a move that made sense. She did an HR internship as part of her degree and found she didn’t like it. From there, she became an Indigenous Academic Advisor at Lethbridge College, something she loved. She also worked in the Lethbridge School District, helping Indigenous youth apply for scholarships, overcome barriers and prepare for post-secondary.
“I just love working with Indigenous people. I think we're so resilient. We're so strong. I feel like our ancestors have fought for everything that we have and I just love working with our people.”
Now at Bow Valley College, she helps Indigenous learners overcome barriers from academics, mental health, addictions, childcare, financial insecurity, and anything that would interfere with academic success. Lamb has a lot of experience helping people, having previously worked in Housing First, a philosophy that everyone is entitled to housing no matter what. She worked with people experiencing homelessness and mental health challenges and helped them get housed.
She knows how hard addictions can be to overcome because she’s eight years clean and sober herself. She went to treatment and also completed a Bachelor of Health Science in Addictions Counselling at the University of Lethbridge. Lamb worked in detoxes and treatment centres on the front line but it took a toll on her until she was burnt out and had to make a change.
“I was trying to figure out how I can still help people but not get burnt out and I found this position. I fell in love with it and I have the best job in the world,” she smiles. In the centre, students can smudge and connect with culture.
Throughout her own school journey, Lamb overcame challenges of her own. She had her son in the last year of her Bachelor of Management program. When she went back for her Bachelor of Health Sciences, she was a single mother. Her kids are active in football and cheerleading and she was going to school and practicums. It was hard, but her kids inspired her.
“When I graduated the second time, I had my kids there. They watched me walk across the stage. That was the coolest thing in the world. I've always wanted to show them it doesn't matter, you can do it. It's possible,” she beams.
“I grew up thinking that the world and my life was in this one small town. If I could tell my younger self, I'd be like, ‘Leave, go to school. It will always be your home, but just get tons of experience and get educated. Post-secondary education is so important,’” she reflects. Lamb sees the value not just in the credential but in showing employers that she showed up, did the work and completed something. “It opens so many doors,” she continues.
Leaving home to go to school can feel scary and lonely, Lamb knows, but she also knows it’s possible to find community, friendship and fellowship. “Community is what you make it and what you surround yourself with. Don't limit yourself. There's so many opportunities out there,” she advises.
Managing her mental health and well-being as a mom, Lamb sometimes feels guilty when she takes time for herself. Over time, she’s learned she needs to do that to be able to take care of others so she goes for massages, dinners with friends, and to 12-step meetings. “I never want to go back to where I was so I think that taking care of your mental health is the most important thing,” she explains.
Lamb draws inspiration from the people she helps at work and the opportunity to be an advocate. She’s also inspired to be a helper because of the help she’s received. “I was given hope, and I want to give people hope, and especially working with people who are battling mental health and addiction issues. I'm not someone who just read a book and is giving you theories. I've done the work. I just love helping people, seeing people succeed, and it's really cool,” she elaborates.
In closing, her advice for Indigenous youth is “Just hang in there. Continue with your education. Education is so important. I think our future needs all the educated Indigenous people that we can get, and I think it's really exciting.”
Fourteen years ago, Heather Lamb was a single mom who didn’t know what she was going to do with her life. As an Indigenous learner success advisor, she gets to help other Indigenous people figure out what they want to do with their lives and what they need to get there. It all worked out for her, and she’s working hard so her students can see it will all work out for them, too.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.