Blog Post #10:  - Meet Shirley Gillingham, a learner at the Saint John Learning Exchange, which has a goals project with the Social Innovation Fund

Nothing's Going to Stop Her Now

Saint John woman’s motivation bolstered by incentives

It is Shirley Gillingham’s time to shine.


After years of low-paying service jobs and raising her children, the 38-year-old Saint John woman is advancing upon her life’s dream of a career in accounting.


“For the past 18 years I’ve known what I wanted to do,” she says. “It’s just having the time and the headspace to finally do it.”


Shirley loves to find solutions through numbers.


“I never really found anything else that gave me that same sense of accomplishment.”

'Time to make things better'

In November, Shirley went to the Saint John Learning Exchange, which provides adult education, training, and career development, to get her GED. She didn’t finish high school, she says, because she was “distracted,” leaving home in Newfoundland at 16 to move to Ontario. She thought she’d go to college, but life took her in other directions.


“For years, I felt like I was just floating through life, doing things I wasn't really interested in,” she says. “At the end of it all, what could I say I accomplished if I didn’t do what I loved, what I’m passionate about?”


Now that her kids, aged 11 and 14, are older, “this is the time to make things better,” she says.


Since November, Shirley has gotten her high school diploma. Now she’s at work on an advanced math class that’s a prerequisite for the business accounting program she’s been accepted into at the New Brunswick Community College. She starts the two-year program in the fall.


Shirley’s teachers at the Learning Exchange tell her she’s “steamrolling it,” she says with a laugh.


“Once I put my mind to something, I’m all in,” she says. “I can’t sit on my hands.”

“Once I put my mind to something, I’m all in." 

- Shirley Gillingham

“It feels like you’re earning something for the hard work you’re putting in.” - Shirley Gillingham

Incentives an 'extra boost'

While her own motivation is high, Shirley says she wouldn’t have made such quick progress without the help of the Learning Exchange staff, particularly in breaking down her dream of college into manageable intermediate goals.


“I had those steps, and I knocked them off,” she says.


And she appreciates the extra boost of financial incentives for each incremental goal she achieves. Shirley didn’t know, when she arrived, that the Learning Exchange is testing how incentives may help motivate people achieve the small steps on the way to bigger education and employment goals.


The financial incentives research project program is supported by the Social Innovation Fund, a five-year, $10-million provincial investment in creative ways of countering generational poverty.


“It’s a great help to have that little bit extra coming in,” Shirley says. “And it feels like you’re earning something for the hard work you’re putting in. It feels good to be noticed for what you’re doing. It gives you that extra pride in it."

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