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Paula’s story: from addiction to inspiration

Posted on May 13, 2015



Five years ago, Paula Armstrong made a life-changing decision. The way she puts it, “I made a move to help myself.”

Like so many others in neighbourhoods across Vancouver, a 15-year battle with illness and addiction had drained Paula of her social skills, her career skills, and especially her self-worth. As a start to what the 58-year-old calls her “long, slow road back to society,” Paula enrolled in VCC’s Workplace Essential Skills training, a free and flexible program designed for people with unemployment history or significant employment barriers.

This is how Paula, now a published writer, musician and food service entrepreneur describes her experience:

“Going into the program, I had lost confidence in my ability to perform basic tasks like adding numbers together or even composing a sentence with correct punctuation, but after the first couple of weeks, I felt like my brain had been in a deep sleep and was just waking up! What joy! I soon started to believe that I wasn't dumb or damaged from my years of self- abuse.

I was reminded that throughout my life I had performed my jobs with an attitude of excellence, initiative and commitment. Most of my jobs have been in the service industry, so volunteering did not feel out of reach to me. My computer skills were nil, so going to the computer room at VCC was a very helpful aspect of the course. The Working with Others component also enabled me to see that I actually enjoy people and I'm good at it.

After completing the course, I decided to join a writing group that Megaphone Magazine was putting on at the Rainier Hotel. I had always seen myself as a writer of sorts, and now I can say that I'm a published author of several poems and short stories!News-Paula-embed2

My friend Loraine and I also started a little catering business that the PHS was sponsoring. We make various trays of food and fruit for non-profit organizations. Loraine also took the VCC course.Learning to think positively helped me with self-confidence. I played piano privately my whole life and with a little encouragement, I applied for a part-time job playing piano at a restaurant during lunch hour. They liked me! Now I play at different places on a volunteer basis.‌

I intend to follow up with extending my computer skills by taking a course at the Continuing Education Center or attending one of the many courses offered at the VCC. Being able to be somewhere at a given time and place was another life skill I learned during the VCC course. I have also just completed the first week of an exercise program at St Paul's Hospital! I believe that taking the Workplace Essential Skills workshop has greatly accelerated my progress as a functioning human being in society today.

I intend to review the literature of the course regularly to keep me on my toes; just as writing this article has woken me up again! I now have a great attitude towards life and believe in endless opportunities.”

Everyone at VCC is incredibly proud of you, Paula, especially your instructors. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story!


Funding for Workplace Essential Skills training was provided to VCC’s Department of Training & Community Development through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement.

For 50 years, VCC has worked to provide growth opportunities for all community members. Read another inspiring story about our downtown neighbour and VCC grad Mervyn Charles, and join us on May 31, 2015 for our annual Fair in the Square community barbecue held in Victory Square.