Welcome to Spring '11 Scholarship

Topic: Describe how you have offered or received a helping hand.

Melody Thomas
University of Toronto


Although I have had many valuable experiences offering a helping hand to those in need, being on the receiving end of a helping hand has profoundly changed my life. Five years ago, at the age of 17, I became homeless. Lonely, depressed, and failing many of my grade twelve classes, I struggled to make ends meet. With the loving help of others, I am now pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Toronto. I have funded my degree entirely on scholarships and I am at the top of my class. Needless to say, I would not be where I am today without receiving many helping hands.

Prior to becoming homeless, I had been taking singing lessons from a woman named Pam Birrell. Pam’s husband directs the Peterborough Singers, my hometown’s 100-voice community choir, to which I had recently been granted admittance. I was scheduled to start rehearsing with them on a Wednesday, but this particular Wednesday ended up being the day after I became homeless. Ever determined, I attended the rehearsal regardless, and will be perpetually glad that I did. I was met with 100 pairs of helping hands.

Pam quickly stepped in and took the place of my mother, providing much emotional support in my time of despair. She was one of my primary sources of motivation to get up and face the world when I was feeling especially disheartened. She always believed that I had the spirit to rebound after misfortune and excel at whatever I put my mind to. Pam’s constant encouragement was crucial to helping me regain emotional strength.

In a very respectful and confidential manner, Pam spread word to the choir that there was a young person in their midst in need of help establishing her own place to live. Within days, the shabby student apartment I had finally acquired became flooded with furniture, kitchenware, power tools, cleaning supplies, and home-cooked food. There was no end to what the choir would do to provide help.

The following year, I aspired to audition for university music programs, but had no way to travel to universities. I asked the choir director if he knew of any choristers who might be able to help, and he pointed me to Joyce Barrett and John Hambley. Joyce graciously allowed me to borrow her car to travel to my auditions, and through this favour, we became much better acquainted. When Joyce learned of my unfortunate living situation, she compassionately said that there was always an extra room in her house if I needed it.

Upon acceptance at University of Toronto, I moved to Toronto and no longer had a place to live in Peterborough. Every time I had a break from school, I came home to Joyce and John’s spare bedroom and felt increasingly welcomed. At the end of my first year of studies, I moved in with them permanently. For the past three years, I have spent all of my school holidays living with ceaselessly generous people that are always willing to offer me a helping hand.

When I joined the Peterborough Singers, I joined a family of helping hands. This group of charitable souls played a leading role in helping me get back on my feet after my life took a turn for the worse. Not only did they help me survive, but they also helped me to flourish, and for that I am eternally grateful. In the future, I am committed to making a healthy return on all of the help I have received.