As a child, Emily never felt like she fit in, despite growing up in a loving home in an established neighbourhood.
In 10 years, she changed schools seven times. Cruel bullying chipped away at her self-esteem, following her wherever she went. She was diagnosed with a learning disability, was raped and started using drugs to cope. Her life flew out of control quickly, which led to her being hospitalized at the age of 15. Emily spent three years on a cross-country tour of 12 treatment centres in the U.S., trying to find care for her mental illness and addictions. She was diagnosed with panic and anxiety disorder, severe depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Emily ended up on the streets of Toronto, addicted to crack cocaine and subjected to continued violence and abuse as she struggled to survive.
Homeless for almost a year, Emily was introduced to Eva's Phoenix, a youth shelter that helps teens transition out of homelessness. It was a safe haven for Emily, providing life skills training and job coaching, which helped her discover that she loved working with children. Once she found her passion, finding her worth became easier. Emily started to gain confidence for the first time in her life. She got an apartment, graduated high school and studied early childhood education at George Brown College and Ryerson University.
Today, Emily works as an early childhood educator in a kindergarten classroom. She loves making sure the children in her classroom have a positive experience, and feel valued and respected. She helps children see their worth so they will never feel alone, afraid or unwanted, as she did growing up. In particular, Emily is committed to stopping bullying and fostering social justice.
Now in her early 30s, Emily has been free from addiction for 10 years. She has accomplished more than she ever thought she was capable of.
"There was a time in my life that I thought I wouldn't live past my 21st birthday because of the choices I was making and the pain that filled every crevice in my body," she says.
Emily is a passionate advocate on breaking down stigma. She wrote a powerful story on her journey for Toronto Life magazine, galvanizing her role as an advocate and speaker. Her candor, honesty and remarkable strength are an inspiration to everyone she meets.
"Mental illness, addiction or homelessness can affect anyone, from any background, at any time," she says.