Gift from Sisters of St. Ann builds UVic Youth in Care award

Human and Social Development

- Kate Hildebrandt

Tuition waivers for up to 15 students each year for those from government care

Lilia Zaharieva whispers her question with genuine awe. “They gave how much?” she asks, hearing about the $2-million donation from the Sisters of St. Ann earmarked for the University of Victoria’s Youth in Care award. As a recipient herself, she knows firsthand the life-altering significance of such generosity. 

“What an amazing gift to give,” she says. “What fantastic help.”

Zaharieva is in her second year of the bachelor program with the School of Child and Youth Care at UVic. She is dedicated to learning due in large part to her drive, her mother’s influence and a determination to not be defined by a difficult upbringing.

She is fascinated by the sisters’ long history of educating and caring for children, many orphaned or in need of care. Lilia hopes to study the sisters’ earlier work across BC.

Sisters established schools and hospitals

From their arrival in Victoria in 1858, the Sisters of St. Ann led the way educating and providing relief to the most vulnerable to deliver quality education and health care. The Roman Catholic women’s order dedicated themselves to establishing schools and hospitals across the province, freely providing these services to underprivileged new Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

“This generous gift from the Sisters of St. Ann is a legacy that will enable disadvantaged youth to pursue their life’s dreams through higher education,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “The sisters have ministered to community needs in BC for more than 150 years. The University of Victoria enjoys a long history with the Sisters of St. Ann and we are privileged to further their mission to educate young people who would not otherwise have access to post-secondary education.”

Gift to benefit many students

Heartened by kindness, Zaharieva knows this gift will help more students benefit from the UVic tuition waiver, just as she has done.

Zaharieva was moved into foster care at the age of 14. Born with cystic fibrosis, she was prone to respiratory infections due to a diminishing lung capacity, requiring special care. She also depends on medication to address an enzyme imbalance that interferes with her body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.

Zaharieva was relocated to five different homes over four years of foster care. Frequently confronted by what she calls the shaming, invisible “foster child stigma,” Zaharieva advocates for those in or from government care. She also dedicates time “strategizing to eradicate the stigma of mental illness through education, outreach, and strategic partnerships.”

Zaharieva has been recognized for community activism (BC Representative of Children and Youth Awards of Excellence - 2011), youth leadership (United Way YouthNOW program - 2011), volunteer work (International Foster Care Organization - 2012), and public speaking (TEDx Youth Conference - 2012). She is deeply focused on “building strength and taking action.” Like her mother, whom she visits often, Zaharieva wants to learn and continue to grow by helping others.

Sisters’ links with UVic

The Sisters of St. Ann have helped advance health and education at UVic since the early days of the university and former Victoria College. Many Sisters are alumnae. One was a faculty member of UVic’s initial School of Nursing, first in the city. The sisters created endowments for teaching and nursing students, donated property, and over the years built lasting friendships with many UVic leaders, professors, and faculty members.

“We share many values and convictions and have similar concerns for the world,” says Sister Marie Zarowny, provincial leader of the Sisters of St. Ann. She holds UVic colleagues in high regard with a particular affection for those from the Faculty of Human and Social Development.

“As we looked at our future, we made decisions to divest and sell property while still seeing to our own,” Zarowny says of the 36 sisters in BC, most in their senior years.

“Our vow of poverty means that once our needs are provided for, everything else we have goes to serve those who are poor and vulnerable in our society, in response to our founding mission.” A discerning approach, Zarowny adds, guides their allocation on who might best administer these funds. UVic is among the most trusted and the sisters see the university as a partner who helps others “grow into the fullness of life.”

Pilot project launched program

Youth who have been in government care often have few financial resources. Two years ago, UVic provided $100,000—matched by a private donation—that established a pilot program for youth in care. This commitment was in response to a challenge from BC’s Representative for Child and Youth, to provide tuition waivers for students who have difficulty paying for post-secondary studies. The fund provided tuition waivers for an initial five students.

“Knowing that someone has invested in me, in my life, and in my future just makes me want to bring that gift forward,” says Zaharieva.

Last year UVic provided more than $18 million in direct financial support to students, including $7.8 million in undergraduate scholarships and more than $2.4 million in undergraduate and graduate bursaries.

The University of Victoria extend its sincere gratitude to the Sisters of St. Ann for their generous gift. The Youth in Care award is available to anyone who has lived in government care and wishes to apply to any faculty at UVic.



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Keywords: philanthropy, youth, award, student life

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