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Community Service Worker Diploma helps Lara kick start her new life

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After being trapped in an abusive marriage for 16 years and imprisoned in her home surrounded by 14-acres of land, there’s no denying Lara Niessen is an Academy of Learning Career College graduate with a story to tell. In 2017, 47-year-old Lara and her four children escaped their abusive past with nothing but backpacks and the determination to start afresh. 

Fast forward just a few short years and Lara has completed her Community Service Worker Diploma and recently found a job as a community support worker, helping people who suffer from mental health issues. This is a stark contrast to her previous life as a secretary for her now ex-husband, who ran a business from the home in which she was trapped. Here she developed selling and admin skills but at the same time was denied leaving the house for fresh air for months at a time.

“I knew I needed to get out, not
just for me but for my children. We were all being abused. My kids still
suffer from PTSD after what happened to us. My daughter was so
traumatized after the escape that she would scream for hours at a time –
it was heart-breaking. 

“Once we were free, we found refuge in a
basement suite which, as you can imagine, was a bit cramped. Luckily, we
have now moved into a place just a street over which has three
bedrooms. A year after our escape, welfare wanted me to get back into
work. I was reluctant because I needed to look after my children well
and expected I would only get a low-paid job with my existing
qualifications. So, I applied for income assistance in the Persons with
Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB) category, which gave me a two-year
window before being required to start work. It was at this time that I
found Academy of Learning Career College in Abbotsford.” 

Lara was welcomed by the Academy of Learning staff and after she had
expressed a desire to learn to access a career, the team helped her to
make the right decisions for her future.

“The team was so welcoming and
encouraging. I explained my story to them, and they couldn’t have been
more helpful when choosing a programme of study. I had set my mind on
working with the homeless and people with mental health issues, so the
Community Service Worker Diploma was the one for me. Initially, I
struggled to find funding to take the course, but the Academy of
Learning team helped me approach the Opportunities Fund, which granted
the support I needed to take my diploma. 

“Because of the
pandemic, I was able to study online from home. I studied for up to six
hours a day whilst I cared for my daughter. The fact that Academy of
Learning offers such a flexible schedule for study was a huge benefit
for me. Having the ability to work from home allowed me to reassure my
family that I was there for them. I don’t know if I’d have been able to
complete the diploma without that.”

well as Academy of Learning’s flexibility on where students choose to work
through their course, you also receive help from a learning coach. The learning
coach’s job is to provide students with extra help when they need it. It
doesn’t matter if a student chooses to learn on campus or from the comfort of
their home; a learning coach will be on hand whenever they are needed.

“My learning coach was always
available to help me with technical issues or when I was stressed and
needed an extra bit of a push. All the Academy staff had a caring and
warm attitude, taking into account my personal circumstances.

have always risen to a challenge. I never wanted to rely on welfare, so
moving forward was my only option. My message to people looking to start
a new life is that no matter what you’ve been through, you can always
change your life for the better. Today is a new day, and you can do
something you have never done before. My experience with Academy of
Learning has changed my life, given me a new direction and boosted my
confidence. Remember, we only get one life, so make the most of it.”

If you’re interested in developing yourself personally or professionally in a supportive and flexible learning environment, get in contact with with us. We are accepting students for our Community Service Worker Program. Call us at 905-273-6788 or Email

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