Emergency bursary gives student hope and a home

Published on May 19, 2020

Willow Shelley is thankful to donors for helping in her time of need

Willow Shelley considers her time at NAIT to be among the best years of her life. Though, like many students, she’s had her fair share of challenges throughout her studies, which she managed to overcome with resilience and a bit of humour.

“There’s a running joke between me and my husband that we say each semester, that ‘this is the worst semester ever’,” she laughs. “It seems like every semester there’s been some sort of hurdle that’s come up.”

Last September, Shelley found herself in a financial situation that threatened to derail her plans to graduate this year. She and her husband suddenly found themselves temporarily homeless after a terrifying incident that forced them to flee the condominium they rented.

“Without that emergency bursary, we would have been homeless.”

Shelley credits emergency bursaries and the generosity of NAIT’s donors for giving her hope – and a home – when she needed it most.

A beacon of home

Shelley often wonders how they continued living in the condo they rented for more than a year.

Days after moving in, the couple couldn’t help but notice people coming and going from the building at all hours of the day and night. There was also no shortage of illegal activity. Several occupants were involved with drugs or theft. Next door, domestic violence was seemingly an all too common occurrence.

Living in the building became downright dangerous. Fellow tenants were threatened and assaulted.

When things were at their worst, the stress took its toll on Shelley’s body. She battled an autoimmune condition that made it difficult for her to walk or move around.

Thankfully, Shelley managed to keep her grades up and complete her tenure as vice-president of student services with the NAIT Students’ Association. By the end of the summer, she was recovering from her autoimmune condition and was looking forward to the final school year ahead of her.

Then came that day when people showed up outside her condo building with guns.

“We ducked, called the cops and got out of there,” Shelley says.

Leaving everything behind, they found safe harbour on a friend’s couch. Then, they immediately began searching for a new place to live. As students, money was tight as the couple hadn’t received student loans yet.

“Thanks to donors, I didn’t have to drop out – that’s really big for me.”

After explaining her situation at NAIT’s Student Awards and Financial Aid Office, she received a $1,000 emergency bursary to put a payment down on a new place and to buy groceries for the first few weeks of school.

After moving to their new, safe and quiet home, they realized how stressed they had been from living in their previous building. It was like waking up from a bad dream.

“It was such a stark contrast, not living in fear. Before, I was burnt out and exhausted,” she says, thankful to the donors who support emergency bursaries that helped keep her on course to graduate.

Pursuing a passion in business

Although May’s convocation ceremonies are postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelley is looking forward to taking the next steps to pursue her passion for business – a passion she first discovered a decade earlier as a coxswain on her school’s rowing team.

From her position at the front of the boat, Shelley was responsible for coaching the team to row in unison.

“With the rowing, you’re encouraging everyone to do their best. Sometimes you just need someone to notice and do their best to coach and support you,” she explains.

“Thanks to donors, I didn’t have to drop out – that’s really big for me."

Shelley realized then that she enjoyed leadership and team building. These skills served her well while attending NAIT and helped her push through the tough times. Scholarships and bursaries, Shelley says, were  also important to her success.

“It was so much relief to receive that support,” she says. “Thanks to donors, I didn’t have to drop out – that’s really big for me. I’m so excited to graduate from school, and give back one day.”