When Nicole was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) at age 14 she was devastated.
She was told she had the mental capacity of a Grade 4 student and that made her furious. "I was very upset and felt dumb," she recalled.
But instead of wallowing in self-pity, the teen decided to take action and change her situation. She approached Catholic Social Services' McDaniel Youth Program, one of four programs that addresses FASD-related issues, and started to work towards her improvement.
Nicole, who asked that her last name not be used, spent three years in the program under the care of mentors who helped her access community support and ease her transition into adulthood.
"They helped me with school and get off of drugs," she recalled. "They were there for me when I needed support."
Now, at age 22, Nicole is considered a success. She completed high school, has a fulltime job and lives on her own. She plans to go back to school and become a social worker.
Nicole was one of five former clients and staff of the McDaniel Youth Program attending the launching of the 2012 Sign of Hope Campaign at CSS' north side office Oct. 16.
CSS is hoping to raise $2.66 million this year, said campaign chair John Caputo, publisher of the Edmonton Sun.
Caputo said many of the more than 130 programs offered by CSS rely heavily on the Sign of Hope Campaign for their continued operation.
"I ask Albertans to please consider a generous donation to the Sign of Hope so that Catholic Social Services can continue to offer effective and cost efficient services to people in need in our communities."
Additional monies raised through the campaign would go to the McDaniel Youth Program to assist youth in crisis situations that are now on a waiting list.
"With an additional $60,000 over the Sign of Hope campaign goal, we would like to hire an outreach program mentor for those youth who are waiting to be matched with a one-on-one mentor," said program manager Denise Plesuk.
"The (outreach) mentor would be able to provide the youth with referrals to other community services to assist them while waiting for a mentor."
FASD is a lifelong disability resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol. Plesuk said it has no cure. About 36,000 people are living with FASD in Alberta. Each year there are about 450 children in the province born with the syndrome.
"FASD can result in physical, mental, behavioural and learning issues," Plesuk said at the news conference.
"The disability impacts the individual's brain and how they function in daily living."
Since 1999, Catholic Social Services has created four programs that deal with FASD-related issues, including the McDaniel Youth Program, which was established in 2008.
It's a three-year mentorship program designed to improve the well-being and stability of youth between the ages of 14 to 19 who are diagnosed with FASD.
Mentors in the program help youth with a variety of issues such as peer relationships, living skills, school work, job searching, finding a home, dealing with anxiety and improving self-esteem. The program helps 40 youth at a time.
Nicole said she wants every young person affected by FASD to know the McDaniel Youth program really works. "It helped me," she said.
People can contribute to the Sign of Hope until Dec. 31 on the web at www.catholicsocialservices.ab.ca/SignOfHope, by donating to the campaign in their parish or by calling 780-439-4673.