While other teens were falling asleep on Christmas Eve, Jessica Ouellet was packing her overnight bag for the hospital. When others her age were unwrapping gifts the next morning, Ouellet was going into labour.
She was 16 at the time. "When she first came out and they put her on my chest — I couldn't even breathe," Ouellet said, describing the moment she first laid eyes on her daughter Kaylee on Christmas Day in 2010. "It was beautiful moment.
"There really isn't a word to explain."
But there is. Perseverance might be one. Determination is another. Both words would be accurate in explaining what Ouellet's life has been like since she gave birth to Kaylee on Dec. 25, 2010.
Ouellet, now 18, is a single mom and relies on SHARE Family & Community Services for support. SHARE is one of 27 groups powered by the Empty Stocking Fund that helps families throughout the year and at Christmas time.
It's thanks to the people at SHARE that Ouellet has been able to get her life together.
"Before I had my daughter — I won't lie — I was completely going the wrong direction," said the young mom, adding SHARE was her first stop for support following Kaylee's birth. "The day I found out I was pregnant, I snapped out of it."
Since then, Ouellet has been attending CABE Secondary School in Coquitlam, where she drops off Kaylee at daycare before heading to class across the hall. She's on track to graduate in January and plans to attend Douglas College in the fall.
Every Wednesday, Ouellet still manages to volunteer at the local food bank where she is a recipient herself. Her monthly budget is strict and leaves only $20 each month for extras.
While others in Ouellet's position might be nervous coming up on such an emotionally draining time of year, she embraces it. It's a season that brought her the best present ever, one that helped turn her life around.
"Christmas is a beautiful time of year for me. I love it — but it's stressful," she said, adding SHARE's holiday hamper program has been a huge help in past years. It's the only way Ouellet has been able to afford any gifts for Kaylee and her family.
"I would have no idea how I would do Christmas if I didn't have SHARE."
Although the 18-year-old still faces some judgment and criticism from strangers for being a teen mom, all it's done is strengthen her resolve to set a good example and build a better life for her nearly two-year-old daughter. Despite the nasty looks she often receives, Ouellet takes it all in stride.
"It's because I want to set a good example for Kaylee. I want her not to give up on things," the mom explained. "Growing up? She'll think, 'Wow — my mom's doing the best she can.' That's how I want her to see me."
The Empty Stocking Fund collects cash donations, which are then administered by the United Way, and help fund 27 Christmas bureaus and community service groups across the province.
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