It’s never too late for a fresh start.

Just ask Jacynthe Garceau.

In August 2006, Garceau lost her restaurant job. Employment insurance quickly ran out, and she went on social assistance. She quickly found a job as a cleaner, only to be downsized again several months later. She went back on Ontario Works and declared bankruptcy.

“I was in disbelief,” Garceau, now 34, remembered. “My pride was out the window … I did not want to get on social assistance. I know that a lot of people need it more than I do.”

When a social worker asked what she wanted to do, Garceau took a long, hard look at her life.
“I knew I wanted to cook,” she said. Later that day, she applied to volunteer at the Ottawa Mission.

For six months, Monday through Friday, she did prep work and washed dishes, gaining experience while continuing to receive social assistance.

It was tough, she said. Each month, after paying her rent, she paid off as much of her bankruptcy as she could. With $40 to spend each month, she bought groceries, eating her breakfast and lunch during her shift at the shelter.

Getting ahead seemed impossible. But then the Mission helped her apply for the two-year culinary management program at Algonquin College. “I was sponsored by them — they paid my tuition, for my books, tools, uniform and my bus pass.”

When it came time to look for a job, the Mission stepped in again, referring her to a care facility for seniors, where she now works as a cook, dietary aide and dishwasher.

“I was very lucky,” Garceau said. “If it wasn’t for the Ottawa Mission, I’d probably still be on social assistance and I would have lost my dreams. My dream has always been to be a chef and they gave me the opportunity to succeed.”

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