There's Something About Neola

kolari thumbnailSeveral years ago I worked for the Toronto District School Board as a social worker assigned to several downtown schools in Toronto’s poorest communities. I had the privilege of meeting some wonderful families and some truly amazing kids. There was one child, however, who really stood out. Neola – there was just something about her.

I first met her when she was in grade 4 at Lord Dufferin Public School. She was full of spunk, smart as a whip and incredibly funny. People were drawn to her. She was remarkable. I met with her weekly, kept a close eye on her and got to know this incredible person.

Neola’s life was not easy. Her father worked long hours every night and had to sleep every day. Neola was often alone; her siblings with their own issues often didn’t have time for their little sister. I remember on one occasion Neola had missed a few days of school and when she came back she looked terrible. She had lost weight, she looked exhausted and she told me how sick she had been with a very high fever and the stomach flu. I asked Neola who took care of her. She said “no one.” She took her own temperature and made her own soup and lay there alone and scared. She was nine years old. Can you imagine your own child spending days home alone and caring for themselves while very ill?

On another occasion Neola came to school with her finger swollen to three times its size with an open wound. She had cut herself opening a can a couple of days before. No one took her to the doctor; no one told her she needed stitches. A caring teacher from her school took her to the hospital. Neola never complained, she never cried and even as a young child always maintained her dignity and her sense of humour.

I left the Board in 2004 to go on maternity leave and ended up focusing on my private practice and did not return to the TDSB. I loved that job and I still miss it but I never forgot Neola. I have kept in touch with her over the years and so has that caring teacher who took her for stitches.

Neola is very special. As a teen she advocated on her own to go into care with Children’s Aid because she knew she needed support. She has been living in foster homes and group homes ever since. She has had a tough time but has stayed in school and maintained a good average.

Neola now has an amazing opportunity. She is a finalist in the Miss Teen Canada-World pageant. As Neola explains:

This pageant is not based on beauty or having a commercialized appearance. This competition is about defining your own beauty and discovering the most appropriate role model to not only represent, but to inspire teenagers nationwide. This pageant is about taking initiative, empowering others, and rising above and beyond one’s true potential. Along with the opportunity to enhance public speaking and marketing skills, the title of Miss Teen Canada is accompanied by a prize of twenty-five thousand dollars, missions with the Free the Children Foundation, and inevitably, gateways to a wider variety of universities.

This would be a wonderful opportunity for Neola but she cannot afford to enter the pageant without help. The costs for travel and clothing are too great. There are many ways you can help her. You can give advice and support. You can suggest places where she can find the things she will need at lower prices. You may have a beautiful gown that could be altered. You could donate money to a fund that I will be setting up for her to make this experience possible. If you are interested in helping this remarkable girl please e-mail me directly at

In future posts I will let people know how things are going with Neola, whether she makes it to the pageant and, if so, how she does. I would love for Neola to know that she is not alone, that people do care and that as a community we can help her participate in this incredible opportunity.

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