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Leaving a legacy: memory of Halifax single mom lives on in Dalhousie bursary

Award for African Canadian single parents aimed at helping them pursue Bernard's dream of being a social worker.

Ngena Bernard.


Ngena Bernard.

When Ngena (Gena) Bernard died suddenly of a heart attack at age 36, she left behind four children and a life full of promise.

Before her Jan. 6, 2015 death, Bernard was a full time student at Dalhousie University and was planning to pursue social work studies. She was a graduate of Dalhousie’s Transitional Year Program, where she received the university’s Jonathan Skeete Award.

Described as a well-known and proud member of the African Nova Scotian community, Bernard was heavily involved in community work from childhood.

Her death impacted her family, friends and the community.

“She will be remembered in the community for her kind and sensitive demeanor, infectious smile and laughter as she touched the heart of everyone who knew her,” noted her obituary.

Bernard’s sudden passing shocked her family, including her first cousin Candace Roker.

“She was planning on studying social work because she didn’t just want to get her education, she wanted to also use her education to give back to the community in the form of the social work profession,” recalled Roker, a Dal social work graduate.

“That she passed suddenly in the middle of trying to do all of these things to try to improve her situation, it was just so sad. I just thought ‘This can’t be happening.’”

Roker was determined to find a meaningful way to honour her late cousin’s memory.

It didn’t take her long to come up with the idea of creating a bursary for African Canadian single parents who are graduates of the Dalhousie University Transition Year Program (TYP) and who plan to study social work.

“We needed to find a way to honour her memory and have a reason to continue to call on her name in a positive way and for her in this way to be able to do social work posthumously,” Roker said.

“The creation of this award would help others who are parenting on their own to continue to do the work that she wanted to do and to empower themselves through education.”

Last Saturday, the Ngena Bernard Memorial Transition Year Program bursary was awarded for the first time at Dal’s School of Social Work. Katrina Jarvis was the inaugural recipient.

Bernard’s eldest son, Jarvis Bernard, and eldest daughter, Nia Bernard, were both on hand for the event.

“It was very fitting for the oldest son and the oldest daughter to be there. Her son spoke and just talked about how he was very happy to have his mom’s memory continue on in such a very positive way,” Roker said.

“He himself is a first year student at Mount Saint Vincent University, and his mother, she would be just so proud.”

The bursary is administered by The Association of Black Social Workers and is funded via donations.

Roker hopes donations to the annual $500 bursary will grow so they can increase the size of the award and the number of annual recipients. She thinks her cousin would be thrilled.

“She was a very community-minded individual. Even as a child she just touched everyone she met. She always had a smile,” Roker said.

“She always had a pulse on what was happening in the community…I think that she would be really pleased to know that her legacy will continue to help other people in the community like herself.”

Donations to the Ngena Bernard Memorial Bursary can be sent to:

The Association of Black Social Workers

1018 Main Street

Dartmouth, N.S.

B2W 4X9

(902) 407-8809 (office)

(902) 434-6544 (fax)

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