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Staff donor aims to reduce barriers, level playing fields

As long as she could remember, Trina Washington was a giver. It was in her nature, but also her upbringing.

“My nature has always been, if there’s a need for something…I’ll find a solution,” she said. “[I grew up] in a family that always believed that you could always help another person. My parents were very proactive in the community, did a huge amount of volunteerism.”

Their generous mentality made an impression on a young Washington, who would go on to create three bursaries for the organization she would eventually work at, Niagara College. As a Social Worker and Counsellor within the College’s Health, Wellness and Accessibility department for the past 24 years, she was seeing that the playing field was not level for students with disabilities to acquire a bursary or scholarship.

“When I started giving to student bursaries, I noticed that persons with disabilities would be disqualified for their bursaries because they were not studying at 100% capacity, as a result of their disability,” she recalled.

As a result, she created two Washington Family bursaries specifically for students with disabilities, from any program or level throughout the College to apply to, with no proof of disability necessary to receive them. Each bursary offers $500 of financial assistance to recipient students.

“I always want to invest in students, and a bursary to a student can be the difference that allows them to stay in school.” – Trina Washington, Social Worker and Counsellor, NC Health, Wellness and Accessibility

“I’m physically disabled. So, it’s something very passionate for me. I always want to invest in students, and a bursary to a student can be the difference that allows them to stay in school,” she said. “It’s about reducing barriers and making the playing field a little bit more level.”

Washington has lived with muscular dystrophy since her teen years and, upon entering both her undergraduate and master’s education careers, realized there was next to no support for her or other disabled students, making school that much more difficult and at times, inaccessible. Her goal is so help alleviate impediments for all disabled students, through both her job and philanthropic efforts.

Through her work, she has helped thousands of students get the accessibility assistance they need to thrive in school. When she started, the department was only a few years old and had no more than 300 students. Today, the College’s Health, Wellness and Accessibility department assists more than 2,000 students across two sprawling campuses, something Washington said she, “always feels so proud about.”

She and her family also created a bursary in the name of her late sister-in-law, Carolyn Weaver, a graduate of NC’s Social Service Worker program. The Carolyn Weaver Memorial bursary awards $500 to a student of the program.

“She always worked with marginalized communities and just worked so phenomenally hard. As a tribute to her, graduating from a program that our College offers and then working with again marginalized communities every day until she passed away, I thought it was kind of important to do something that would remember her and her legacy,” said Washington.

Legacy is something Washington will never have to worry about, with all that she has done to help support students.

“It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture,” Washington said. “Every little bit makes a difference, right?”

“It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Every little bit makes a difference, right?”