Donations help disabled teen realize dream of attending university

Accepted to Carleton University, Benjamin Williamson risked watching his dream slip away.

Benjamin Williamson will now be able to attend Carleton University, thanks to the generosity of donors to an online fundraising campaign. Ashley Burke CBC News

By Ashley Burke, CBC News Ottawa Aug 16, 2017

Hundreds of people have donated thousands of dollars to help a recently homeless teen, who lives with a disability, attend Carleton University.

CBC News posted Benjamin Williamson’s story Wednesday morning, and by early afternoon an online campaign to help him cover his tuition, housing and living expenses had raised $22,000.

“All my living costs will be paid for,” said Williamson, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair.

“Thank you does not express what people have done for me. You have really given me the ability to restart my life.”

The money will cover the remainder of Williamson’s first-year tuition, plus his room in residence, which is specially equipped to meet his needs. The donations will also cover his living expenses until at least the end of the school year.

The 18-year-old left a troubled home life six months ago and went to live in a shelter, then prolonged a hospital stay because he had nowhere else to go.

The university bent the rules and accepted the teen into a special program that will help him get started on an undergraduate degree, even though he didn’t complete high school.

But even after grants and awards covered part of his tuition, Williamson was still thousands of dollars short, and risked losing out on the opportunity.

Susan Burhoe, program coordinator at Carleton University’s centre for initiatives in education, fielded calls all day Wednesday from donors and organizations wanting to help. Ashley Burke CBC News

‘This is the best day’

Susan Burhoe, a program coordinator at Carleton, told CBC she immediately recognized the teen’s potential and didn’t want to see his academic talents go to waste. So she started the GoFundMe campaign on his behalf.

“I’m overjoyed, but I’m also shocked,” said Williamson after learning about the generosity of donors. “This is the best day.”

Many left messages of support with their donations, encouraging Williamson not to give up on his dream of becoming a lawyer to represent young people in similar situations to the one he faced.

“I cannot imagine being 18 with [cerebral palsy] and not having support from parents,” wrote one person on Reddit. “Guy is doing life on expert difficulty, I hope he crushes school.”

Donor Jennifer Moore wrote, “Never give up, Benjamin. Your dreams are so important!”

‘It just means so much’

Burhoe said she’s also been getting calls from advocacy groups offering their support to Williamson. One company has offered to drop off bedding, clothes and school supplies for his dorm room.

“It just means so much,” said Burhoe. “If you could see the joy on his face right now.”

As happy as he is with the outcome, Williamson said he hopes his story draws attention to the lack of support and long-term housing for young people with disabilities.

And when the school year is over, Williamson is aware he may need more help finding an affordable, accessible place to live for the summer.

“My fight is not over yet,” said Williamson. “I still need a lot of support to continue.”

Williamson says he still faces challenges, including sitting on a wait list for physiotherapy. Ashley Burke CBC News

Williamson also requires daily physiotherapy following orthopedic surgery in June, which helped him walk with the assistance of a walker. He’s currently on a wait list for health services and says the physical progress he made is regressing by the day.

“The system is still broken,” said Williamson. “That’s my main advocacy role, and will be ongoing.”

Source CBC News


Also see
Disabled teen facing one last hurdle on difficult road to university in CBC News

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