Brittany Denunzio and her three-year-old daughter, Genevieve, attended the Soroptimists Power of the Purse event, where Mom was presented with a $2,500 scholarship towards her education. (Roxanne Hooper/Langley Advance)

Langley women injects support into single mothers’ scholastic efforts

Power of the Purse event raised about $5,000 for Ishtar Transitional Housing.

Two single mothers are able to breathe easier today, after receiving an infusion of cash from Langley Soroptimists.

Langley’s Lana McCarney and Vancouver’s Brittany Denunzio were presented with scholarships from Soroptimists International of the Langleys over burgers and beer Thursday night at Newlands Golf & Country Club.

Both are women who have chosen to return to school, with hopes of building a career and a more secure future for themselves and their children.

McCarney, a Langley City resident, is in the midst of a one-year special education assistant program at Stenberg College in Surrey.

For her, it was an early birthday present. She turns 37 Saturday, and was moved close to tears by the gesture.

“I need all the help I can get,” she said, noting it will give her breathing room between finishing school and finding an SEA job – which might not be possible until this fall.

While she starts her practicum at Douglas Park Community School later this month, and hopes beyond hope she gets hired before even finishing the work experience component of her program, there’s no guarantees, McCarney acknowledged.

She’s been in retail, worked as a care aid, and was employed at a daycare.

But all her life, she remembers people telling her she should be a teacher.

With an eight-year-old son, Liam, she can’t afford to spend at least five years going to school to become a teacher, and said becoming a SEA was a much better option for her.

“I really love the school atmosphere,” she said, anxious to finish with the academic portion of her studies and move into the classroom later this month.

“There’s a large demand for SEAs and teachers right now,” McCarney said, noting how excited she is about the future – for the sake of her son and herself.

“I really want a career as opposed to moving from one job to the next,” she said, pointing out her younger sister had a similar calling and works as a teacher in Abbotsford.

Thanks to money from the Soroptimists, she said she’s not panicking.

“It gives me more breathing room to find a job now that I’m almost done.”

She received a $1,000 scholarship from the Soroptimists, while Denunzio received the top award of $2,500.

Denunzio is a 27-year-old single mother to three-and-a-half-year-old Genevieve.

She’s currently taking a two-year occupational health and safety program at BCIT, and like McCarney said the gift helps alleviate some financial stresses for her.

“I need all the help I can get,” she added, noting she learned about the Soroptimists and its efforts through the YWCA single mothers program.

Admittedly, it’s been a bit of a juggling act trying to share her focus between her studies and her bright-eyed, smiling daughter who joined her at Thursday’s dinner.

“All of this is for her,” Denunzio said, hugging her daughter to her.

“You never really know the struggle of money until you’re a parent and have someone else to answer to, someone who depends on you,” she said, expressing her gratitude.

“The less I have to worry about money, the more I can focus on my studies and spending time with my beautiful little girl.”

She explained to the crowd at Newlands Thursday how more than three years ago she “fled an abusive relationship” with her three-month-old daughter in tow.

“I didn’t know where I would go, or how I would make it. All I knew is my daughter deserved a better life than what I brought her into,” said Denunzio, who currently works as a wedding planner.

“The first night in the women’s shelter, I cried at the dinner table. I didn’t understand how someone as intelligent, loving, and resilient as myself could have gotten to this point. But I knew that it couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

Unable to return to work because she couldn’t get affordable daycare, she started her own wedding planner business (to ensure flexible hours around the needs of her daughter) and looked at returning to school.

Now almost a year into her training, Denunzio said she’s grateful for all she has been through.

“There’s a saying that I have held dear through the last 3.5 years. The saying goes: ‘nothing worth having in life ever comes easy’.”

She’s on her way to having everything she could hope for and want in life, including “a wonderful, intelligent daughter who lives without alcoholism and abuse, a new partner who makes sure I feel supported and loved, a car to get to and from where I need to go, and a program that will ensure I can provide a bright future for my daughter… Everything I’ve gone through was worth it…For it is in our trials and tribulations we find what means most to us and who we truly are meant to be.”

Carole Ward, manager of Westminster Savings, was this year’s judge, said the selection process was difficult.

“I found it to be a really great experience for me… all of these women were so deserving… it was difficult to make the decision,” she said.

The scholarship awards have been a longstanding project for the local Soroptimists, but it was decided this year presentation of the money could be rolled together with the group’s new event.

The money was presented to both of these women during the inaugural Power of the Purse fundraiser.

McCarney and Denunzio joined about 150 women and a handful of men gathered at Newlands Thursday to help raise money for Ishtar Transitional Housing Society.

Given the expected financial success of Thursday’s inaugural event, the Soroptimists are considering doing it again next year. There were more than 200 “previously loved” purses sold for between $5 and $25, along with a variety of jewelry and scarves. An additional 17 purses were auctioned off.

While numbers are still being tallied, the event is expected to raise about $5,000 for Ishtar, said Soroptimist Shirley Stewart.

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