Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids: Keisha Wabano’s Community Building Dreams Through Social Work
“I feel like I'm just like my mom. I'm very caring, kind, empathetic, and I listen to others. I think she made a big impact on me to go this route,” shares Keisha Wabano. Originally from Attawapiskat, Ontario, in the Moosonee area, she moved to Lac Seul First Nation seven years ago. While she normally works as a social service worker, she’s currently on education leave, studying full time online through Laurentian University.
She’s hard at work on her Bachelors of Indigenous Social Work, a path inspired by her childhood. Growing up, she saw her mom working as a supervisor in child welfare social work. Wabano’s main focus is mental health and addictions, after working as a child and youth school counsellor. “Now's my time to go to school and finish what I need to do,” she decided after receiving education funding
This wasn’t what she had planned for herself professionally, but she found her way to where she wants to be. “It took me a while to figure out if I really wanted to do social work,” she recalls. As a teen mom, it took some time for her to finish high school. Her next goal was post-secondary but she wasn’t sure what to do. She started with general arts and sciences until she landed on social service work.
She went to Confederation College in Thunder Bay and graduated from her program thanks to her strong time management skills, juggling her education and three little kids. She found full-time studies challenging with all the schoolwork and living life as a parent. That’s why she was so happy to take education leave this time and focus on finishing her degree.
“Schooling is really important,” Wabano says, but it hasn’t been easy. Ten years after she was last a student, she is getting back into the groove of churning out papers, which was a grind at first but she’s getting the hang of it. She is settling in to complete her credential, now a mother of five children between the ages of one and sixteen. With four girls and one boy, her hands are full of books and babies, but her eyes are on the future (and all the deadlines!
In her college days, she procrastinated, something she’s trying to learn from. With a houseful of kids, she can’t do that anymore. She sets alarms on her phones to remind her of due dates and she is always checking in online to stay on top of the discussion boards. “It's almost like I'm sitting in class, and that's what I want to get that feeling of because it's so different working from home doing everything online,” she recounts.
She’s trying to avoid distractions so she can stay on track. While she wants to put her kids first, she also has to do homework. Her older kids help with their younger siblings and that helps her focus on what she has to do and what she hopes will come next.
After she graduates, she wants to put forward proposals to Lac Seul First Nation to establish a mental health and addictions department and services for adults. “I feel like in order for children to succeed, we need to have healthy parents too,” she explains. That level of wellness, she believes, provides structure for parents and empowers them to teach their kids while making better choices themselves. She also wants to advocate for her daughter who is a type one diabetic and educate the public about diabetes.
Part of what has shaped her journey is how after college she moved to Timmins to be closer to her mom and get back on her feet. When she was ready to go back out on her own, she found work but had to move around more than she would have liked. The transitions were stressful. Now that Lac Seul is home for her kids, she doesn’t see herself relocating again. She lost some of her kids’ baby pictures in her move, something she regrets, and she doesn’t want to go through that kind of upheaval again to protect her mental health.
“Over the years, I've come to realize that mental health for myself is very, very important. I can't help others unless I help myself and take care of myself, so I'm very aware of my mental health and I really know when I'm starting to feel like I need that break,” Wabano relays. When she needs a time out, she goes for walks or drives her kids to get some Tim Hortons.
Her kids keep her busy and remind her what’s important. “Sometimes I really need to laugh and just go and cuddle my little babies, right? You just don't know what they're gonna do,” she smiles. Otherwise, she enjoys reading and when she has the house all to herself, she finds peace just sitting in silence without the sound of the tv.
As she makes her way through school as a busy parent, she’s inspired to keep going because of the way people look up to her for her perseverance and how resourceful she is. Carrying on no matter what she goes through in life, she rekindles her spark reaching out to other people and supporting them, too. Her advice to youth is “just to never give up and just follow your dreams. No matter how busy you are, if you really want it, you will make a way and you will get it done.”
A mom of five herself, Keisha Wabano is following in the footsteps of her own mother. With a shared career path and caring, kind, and empathetic spirits, she listens to others in the work that she does. Her mom had a big impact on her decision to follow this path, and she’s hoping t pay it forward after she graduates. In reaching out a helping hand to other moms and dads, she hopes they can all move forward together, leading their kids towards a brighter future.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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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.