CCI student receives $10,000 scholarship
Three or four years ago, Phillip Kelly became the man of the house.
Looking after an ailing grandmother and two brothers with disabilities, cooking, cleaning, schoolwork and working a part-time job.
Today, the 19-year-old Collingwood Collegiate student is one of five students in the country selected for a $10,000 Horatio Alger Association scholarship.
The award is given to students in financial need who have overcome significant adversity while demonstrating strength of character, strong academics, and a commitment to pursuing higher education, as well as a desire to contribute to society.
For Kelly you can put a checkmark beside every one of those.
His life particularly the teen years could be better represented in a Brother Grimm’s collection, then the young man’s fortunes changed.
“I applied last fall when my guidance teacher at Jean Vanier, where I used to go, told me about it,” says Kelly. “When I filled out the forms I really didn’t appreciate the immensity of the award. When I got the email saying that I had been chosen it was jaw dropping almost because I didn’t realize that I was one of five of over 25,000 applicants.
“It felt really surreal.”
Before that the story was a little darker.
“It’s really a long story and wouldn’t even know where to start, but I was raised by my grandmother because my mom wasn’t fit to raise kids,” says Kelly. “My brother has autism and my little brother has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The only reason why I don’t have any disabilities is because my grandma made my mom live with her while she was pregnant with me because my mom got caught up in a lot of drugs and alcohol, not the best lifestyle.”
Things took a turn when Kelly was 15.
“When I got to Grade 10, my grandma actually came down with Alzheimer disease and my brother had just turned 18, so a lot of his funding was going away,” says Kelly. “So I was doing a lot of the cooking and cleaning and making sure that everyone was going to their appointments. I was pretty much the man of the family.”
His one outlet was his love of sports, but responsibilities at home and school became too much.
“The first thing I had to drop out of was sports when I had all of these responsibilities. Eventually it took its toll on me. I would go to school, go to work to like 10-11 o’clock, come home do homework, do house chores and go to bed. You know then wake up and do it all over again,” says Kelly.
The pressures on the boy began to show.
“It got to a point in Grade 11 where I just about had to drop out of school to support my family. I guess I just had a lot of responsibility at a young age growing up, so it is just something that has been instilled in me,” says Kelly.
“Don’t get me wrong, it certainly feels good, I see some of my peers around and they really don’t seem ready to take that next step. It was just something that I was put into and before you knew it, my grandma wasn’t real healthy and I didn’t know who to reach out to.
Finally Kelly’s doctor saw that things weren’t right. He talked about his grandmother’s health and she could see that he wasn’t eating properly, getting enough sleep and he was suffering from anxiety.
“She started picking away at me and she could see that I was going through a bunch of stuff myself. She really got on me about that point near the end of Grade 11 and she got a lot of outside resources for me, support from the school, the community,” Kelly remembers.
Finally things began to crack. His grandmother’s condition worsened, she didn’t want to move into a nursing home, but many of her family lives in northern Ontario and they agreed to care for her.
Kelly still finds it difficult to lose his family that way, but his grandmother knew that he wasn’t going to be able to cope.
Finally he says he was able to focus on himself. He took a year off school just to look at his future and decide what he wanted to do for post-secondary education.
“When my grandma moved up (north) I was able to move in with a friend who I have known since Grade 4, and his family have been more than accepting. They support me in every way that they can, they are always there for that support,” says Kelly
The future is bright for Kelly.
In April he will be flown down to Washington D.C. to officially receive his scholarship.
But before that, a documentary crew will arrive from the U.S. to film a five minute profile that will be shown at the awards.
Come September, he plans on using his scholarship to study environmental studies at Seneca College.
Initially Kelly was looking at studying business, but did really feel the passion for it.
“It’s hard not to be impacted by the effects of the environment living here, I’m hoping that I can work in sustainable living which is my main area of focus,” he said, and added with a smile,
“Since the end of January when I got this news things just seem to be getting better and better.”