Rebecca Sketchley is an avid community volunteer and the Regional Lead, Mental Wellness for Northern Health in Smithers B.C. The latter is her “dream job.” It’s also one that allowed her to transform her life, and that of her children.
Rebecca is a true example of how hard work, courageous determination and help from a community can transform lives.
Before working in her current role, Rebecca was a primary care social worker (formerly referred to as a mental health & addictions clinician). She had her Bachelors of Social Work from the University of Northern BC (UNBC), having graduated in 2009.
Her job was full-time. She didn’t get to spend much time with her children, whom she parented as a single mother. The stress of front-line social work also took a heavy toll on her mental health.
For the health of her family and herself, Rebecca began seeking other employment. She needed a job that would allow her to ‘find her place’ in an organization, while also giving her flexibility to spend time with her children.
There was one problem. No one would hire her with only a bachelor’s degree. She got feedback from a job she was unsuccessful interviewing for. They told her she needed a master’s degree to advance her career.
Rebecca did research and found the Graduate Certificate in Leadership at Royal Roads University. It was a three month program. She loved it. She wanted to continue on to the school’s highly regarded Masters of Arts in Leadership. Her certificate would bridge right into it.
But that brought up the issue of finances.
“I remember feeling stuck. . .” She says. “It is not cheap to attend university, which is a shame, because in my experience, access to education helps lead to equity for traditionally marginalized people.”
Rebecca applied for financial assistance, and was granted the Budh Singh and Kashmir Kaur Dhahan Scholarship, among seven others (of similar or lesser value).
“After the excitement, I cried tears of relief,” she describes. “The stress of working full time, parenting two children on my own, and attending graduate school is one thing. But financial insecurity is another.”
Her enrollment in the Masters of Arts in Leadership program began in 2020. She graduated in 2022.
The Budh Singh and Kashmir Kaur Dhahan Scholarship was founded by Barj Dhahan, the founder of the Canada India Education Society (CIES). It was named after his parents.
“I felt that Royal Roads University was a gem of an institution in British Columbia, especially for their leadership program,” explains Barj. “I encourage many types of support, but this time, I wanted to help single parents, and those of disadvantaged backgrounds, or with financial difficulties.”
Attending the master’s program had an almost immediate effect for Rebecca. During her studies, she was appointed Northern Health’s Pandemic Response Coordinator, North West.
“Being able to state that I was a masters candidate, along with my skills, experience, and interviewing style, I was the successful candidate,” she recounts.
That job then led to her current position.
During her studies, although she was working full time, things were not easy.
“Truly, it was down to the wire and I was almost unable to pay my bills while at university. I couldn’t afford to put my kids in sports they wanted to be in at this time and we often ate scrambled eggs for dinner,” she recalls. “Living with financial insecurity is a reality for many single mothers and their children.”
Rebecca now spends her free time with her children, Emma, 9, and James, 6. The trio enjoys swimming and kayaking in local lakes and having lake-side picnics. In the winter, their swimming lakes turn into outdoor ice skating rinks, where they continue the fun.
Rebecca also gets to enjoy a book club, which she calls a life “pleasure.”
In her community involvement, Rebecca volunteers for the Bulkley Valley (BVX) Exhibition in Smithers, helping set up the exhibit hall, organize agricultural exhibitors and judge exhibits.
In the past, she was a volunteer for the Tyee Lake Triathlon, as well as the children’s area at the Midsummer Music Festival, also in Smithers.
At her new “dream job,” Rebecca leads Northern Health’s mental wellness portfolio. She supports population health, chronic disease prevention and the promotion of mental wellness.
“I use my understanding of intersectionality, and social determinants of health to help bring mental health equity to the peoples of Northern B.C.,” she explains.
“The Budh Singh and Kashmir Kaur Dhahan Scholarship directly supported my success in graduating with a masters degree which led me to new roles in healthcare operations, which bettered my life and the lives of my children,” continues Rebecca.
Her advice for others who find themselves in her past situation? Firstly, they should apply for all the scholarships they can. But also, they should ask for emotional, financial and social help from others while never giving up.
“Take breaks, be gentle on yourself, but commit to achievement,” she says. “Remember why you want education to help get you through hardships. . .Remember that you have value, potential, and are worth the time and expense of university.”