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Colleen Smereka – The Ripple Effect

My name is Colleen Smereka. I’m excited to share my story as part of CanLearn’s Celebration of 40 years of changing lives. 22 years ago I participated in the Partners for Learning program at CanLearn. This program had an extraordinary impact on my personal life journey.

When I started the Partners for Learning program my goal was to learn how to read and write better, but I learned so much more. I learned that I am intelligent, and with the right approach I can learn anything; the seed that all future decisions about my life grew out of. CanLearn allowed me to carve out a new life path.

Before CanLearn I wouldn’t try at learning because I didn’t want to look stupid. My inability to trust in my own ways of learning was holding me back in all areas of my life. Because I don’t learn like other people, I struggled to gain the confidence to embrace how I learn. In the program I was surrounded by people who were able to clearly explain how my brain worked. They helped me believe in my ability to learn. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could trust the people who were supporting my learning process. Everything I am today started because of the trust that was built between me and the people I met and the hope they gave me. In the program I found my voice and my confidence.

When I first started at the Partners for Learning program I had a dream to graduate from university, but I never thought it would be possible. After attending the program I had new found hope. I completed two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Bachelor of Education degree from St. Mary’s University. Over time I learned to use my voice to express what I needed to achieve personal success. I also used this voice to help advocate for others with similar learning challenges and I have been working in this area ever since.

Last year I helped to set up a new college in the United States. It was amazing to bring the voice of disability to a college from the outset. My journey has led me to understand that there is something unique and valuable within me that only I can share with the world and I have the confidence and the voice to share it. The insight that I provide can change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people like CanLearn changed mine.

My life is proof that you can change a life through learning. Thank you will never be enough for what you have given me; the gift of learning is the greatest gift of all.