Phoebe Smith, a Discover Year alumna, provides a glimpse into her personal journey and describes the impact Discover Year has had on her life so far.

A difficult childhood

My life started out with hardships coming from a small town with little support from my family. When I was 15, I decided to move out on my own to a large city, seven hours from my hometown and family. I left home with $1,000 in my pocket from years of saving, without realizing the hardships to come from being on my own without a job and still in high school. Though this decision wasn’t made lightly, it was a choice I had to make. On my 16th birthday, I moved-in with my uncle in Ottawa. He helped me with my emancipation process through the court systems so that I could stay in high school in Ottawa. I had very little money, and my school helped me apply for public funding which supported me through my school years.

Finding out about Discover Year

Six months before my high school graduation, I heard about a gap year program called Discover Year. At this time, I already knew that I needed a gap year to focus on my mental health and figure out my next steps in life. It wasn’t until I wrote to Jay personally and arranged a meeting with him that I knew this was the direction I needed to go.

Meeting Jay Gosselin & learning about Financial Aid

I remember speaking to Jay about my interest in joining Discover Year and sharing with him the financial challenges I was facing. I told him that I didn’t have financial support from anyone and that was living on my own. I told him that I felt completely alone and didn’t think I could accomplish my dreams, unless I were to put my life on hold for a few years to save money.

Jay listened to me and explained that Discover Year would offer me full financial aid to cover my program expenses. At that moment, I remember crying tears of joy because I knew my journey wasn’t over, and most importantly, that I was no longer alone.

My life during Discover Year

Discover Year soon became my family. I see the Discover Year community as my network of friends and mentors.

That year was one of growth and friendships. I learned many valuable lessons that filled me with hope and aspirations. Another thing I learned was the value of family. I grew up alone and my life was often filled with sadness. Thankfully, I never let that define me. My resilience created a future I would never have expected.

Without Discover Year, I wouldn’t have learned the importance of failure and learning from your mistakes. I grew as an individual and learned to implement many soft skills in my everyday life. This program offered me endless opportunities to gain knowledge, understanding, perspective and gratitude. It gave me laughter and memories that are so dear to me. It helped me realize that, though my past held me down, it didn’t define my future.

Thanks to Discover Year’s financial aid, I had the opportunity to create a network of friendships that will last me a lifetime. For my travel period, my budget was tight but I still had the chance to visit somewhere different and experience new thoughts. I took risks and pursued the goals that I set for myself. These memories will stay with me forever and I am so grateful for the small things Discover Year offered to me.

How Discover Year continues to help me

A month after graduating from the program, I was officially diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis. A few weeks later, doctors found sciatica in my right leg. Two months after that, I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Three months after that, doctors found a cyst in my brain and are still unsure if it’s cancerous.

Before Discover Year, I would have melted down and thought my life was over. However, this program taught me to look at hardships in a different light. Today, I understand the power of perspective.

People have asked me what I valued most about Discover Year. That question can’t be explained through words, but through tears of happiness.

It taught me that life is a precious thing and that we can learn new things with every experience.

It taught me to approach situations with hope and understanding.

It taught me to be compassionate, empathetic, and to give hope to those who are less fortunate.

Discover Year changed my life and I have seen more joy in the past few years then I ever have in my lifetime. At this moment in my life, I’m 19 years old, and I have the power to inspire others to stand tall in the light they share with the world.

Yours Truly,

Phoebe Smith