Toronto Star

Skills blossom from horticultu­re program

Humber College empowers a hard-working woman from Chile to carve a new path


Jacqueline and her husband settled in Canada eight years ago, leaving their Chilean homeland for a fresh start. It didn’t turn out as planned and their marriage ended a few years later, leaving Jacqueline to raise four children.

Single parenthood wasn’t easy and working at odd jobs left her struggling to make ends meet. “I began looking for a door to enter,” said the 44-year-old who was seeking an opportunit­y to stand on her own two feet.

She found it while at an employment centre, near her East Toronto home, where she discovered an exhibit featuring the horticultu­re technician program for women offered at Humber College in partnershi­p with MicroSkill­s.

“I grew up on a farm,” Jacqueline said, adding she wanted to learn more about horticultu­re and turn it into a career. As part of the free horticultu­re program, she learned how to care for and maintain landscape plants “and to make everything beautiful.

“It wasn’t hard, because I love to learn and study,” Jacqueline continued, adding the problem was having the time to focus on studying — there wasn’t much, after a full day of classes.

At home, her time was spent preparing dinner for her family, cleaning, doing laundry and helping her kids with their homework. On Saturdays and Sundays, she worked at cleaning offices.

Determined to excel at school, the resourcefu­l student used every precious minute she had, doing her homework during the 21⁄ 2- hour transit ride each way to and from college, which she attended four days a week. “By the time I got home, my work was done,” she said with great pride. While on the bus and subway, Jacqueline memorized the names of more than 200 plants by writing flash cards that included botanical names, planting conditions as well as diseases and insects that damage them.

Admittedly, the first month was tough and Jacqueline wasn’t sure she could finish. But she dug in her heels for her children. Besides, she fell in love with the course and it showed. A month before the pre-apprentice­ship program ended, she was hired at Wildrose Gardening for a paid internship, in which she’s learning about landscapin­g from the ground up, including planting, garden maintenanc­e and how to prepare yards for each season.

(The highlight was being part of the team that erected and decorated a massive spruce at Market Square this season. “It’s so beautiful.”)

“I love being in contact with nature,” she said. “This year has been so much fun and every day is something different.”

In January, Jacqueline will return to Humber to complete her apprentice­ship and become certified. “I want to be a profession­al in my field,” she said adding though the work can be physically challengin­g — “I lost 30 pounds since I started” — it’s very rewarding.

But she couldn’t have done it with out staff like professor Terrie Greco at Humber and Rodica Lefter, employment counsellor at MicroSkill­s. “They inspired me to finish.”

Jacqueline knows she’s on the right path.

“A few days ago, my daughter told me how proud she is of me.”

Jacqueline is among 25 women in the government-funded horticultu­re technician program this year, and a shining example of the challenges they can overcome with the right support, said Jane Wilson, director of women services and resource developmen­t at MicroSkill­s.

A United Way Toronto agency, its mandate is to assistant clients to improve their economic circumstan­ces through training and employment. Many newcomers and establishe­d immigrants are clients of the multiservi­ce organizati­on that has been serving the community for 30 years.

The horticultu­re program was developed in response to industry need and followed on the heels of a Landscape Ontario study that found a lack of skilled workers in the trade. Since it was establishe­d in 2006, over 100 women have completed the horticultu­re program.

Reaching out to women is key, said Wilson — “women run into situations where they have precarious attachment to the workforce and there are high numbers of them.” MicroSkill­s and Humber are changing that.

As a next step, plans are in the works to develop a mentoring program with horticultu­re technician­s in the field “and growing the next generation. This is a really great, healthy partnershi­p with the college, business sector and a community agency,” said Wilson. “It’s a nice model.”

United Way Toronto has set a goal of $117 million for the 2014 fundraisin­g campaign. Money will help support 200 United Way community partner agencies delivering health and social services and programs across the city.

 ??  ?? Helping decorate a massive spruce in Market Square this season was a highlight of Jacqueline’s internship.
Helping decorate a massive spruce in Market Square this season was a highlight of Jacqueline’s internship.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada