Kirby Williams has spent the last four years absorbed in a world of spreadsheets, formulas and panic-inducing exams.
The 23-year-old commerce student is in his final year at Saint Mary’s University and on schedule to walk across the stage and receive his bachelor’s degree in January.
There were times he thought he wouldn’t make it, but his thirst for a career in banking meant quitting wasn’t an option.
“It’s just drawn to me, even before I applied, I knew I could see myself going into the business world,” Williams said at the Metro Care & Share Society (MCSS) on Agricola Street. “It’s a very interesting field because there’s always things you can do and there’s so much potential.”
Williams is set to be the first university graduate of the MCSS’s Halifax Scholars Program, which funds post-secondary education for young people who might otherwise lack the means to pay for tuition, books and the cost of living away from home.
He said the support MCSS has provided over the years – including tutoring, mentorship and school fees – has allowed him to focus on his studies and build a portfolio of volunteer experience that will open up doors for him after graduation.
“They really gave me the foundation and groundwork to thrive and succeed,” said Williams. “It’s helping me achieve my dreams.”
The Metro Care & Share Society is the brainchild of celebrated Halifax humanitarian Mel Boutilier, who founded the charity in 1984. For the last five years, it has put more than 20 local students in need through college and university.
Boutilier says nine are currently enrolled, and he hopes to take on at least two next year.
“These students, when they’re finished, they will not owe any debt,” he told Global News. “These are great young people that will make a difference in their family, make a difference in their community.
“They’ll become leaders, some of them – they just need us and everybody to join together… if people could just see the need.”
Williams said he’s grateful people like Boutilier exist. They “go way back” together, he explained, and have a friendship far beyond his participation in the Halifax Scholars Program.
“My mother has been working for Boutilier for a very long time,” said Williams. “It’s been a lifetime relationship.”
“He’s just a very hard-working person, someone who actually cares about everybody, who’s trying to do the best for everybody and make sure everybody is in a better position than they were before. That’s hard to come by.”
Boutilier is a volunteer icon in the community; he founded the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank and is the recipient of numerous honourary degrees and philanthropic awards.
But the 91-year-old said he’s in need of public support to continue his work at MCSS – a registered non-profit that relies on sponsorship and donations.
On Friday, he launched a new fundraiser with the goal of raising at least $100,000. The cash will support the operation of MCSS and the Halifax Scholars Program.
Boutilier said it costs an average of $13,000 to put one student through college or university, and there’s a waiting list of young people on his desk in need of financial support.
“It’s a challenge for us to do fundraising to make this all possible,” he told Global News. “There’s big work to do by the universities to take into account the students who want to have a better future, but the only thing prohibiting them is to be able to afford to go.
“We have to find ways and means to make it possible for students who want to be there, to be there.”
In the meantime, Williams said he’ll focus on his studies until graduation, continue his part-time job at Moores Clothing, and set his sights on work experiences that will put him on track to become an investment banker.
His message to other young people who have dreams like his, but might require a leg up to get there, is not to be too proud to ask for help.
“I was one of those kids,” he admitted. “I like to do things on my own and be independent, but if you want to get help, get help.
“Don’t waste your time, especially for post-secondary. I would suggest that every student try to get as much help as they can.”