MatildaPhotomatilda sampson, excelsior youth center

Matilda Sampson grew up in Canada in the Secwepemc Territory as a member of the Adams Lake Indian Band.

“Our focus was just on surviving, keeping food on the table,” she says. School was not seen as a priority in her large family with 11 children. She went through ninth grade but says she was still two years behind. She moved to Omak, Wash., in 1977, where she worked at a sawmill and raised a family. “I had a family really young. I was kind of like a kid raising kids,” she says. After her 18-year marriage ended in 1998, she decided to move to Spokane. Her lack of education was limiting. “One of my main reasons for wanting to go to school was to pass something on to my children and my grandchildren,” she says.

At age 38, Matilda went to get her GED, which took over a year. “That was a big struggle in itself,” she says. “I didn’t think I was smart enough or capable enough to do college.” After that she began a professional secretary college program, thinking she needed a traditional “woman’s job,” but she hated it. As she built her network in Spokane, she was encouraged to consider the addiction studies program at Spokane Falls Community College. Matilda is celebrating 25 years of sobriety this year and has always been drawn to helping others.

She met with the advisor and was soon enrolled. Her first quarter was tough and she was at risk of losing her funding. But her determination and her instructors’ encouragement pushed her forward. From then on, she earned a place on the Vice President’s honor roll list. She was a tutor and became president of SFCC’s Red Nations, a Native American student association. Matilda’s advisors told her about an “upside-down” degree at Whitworth University that allowed all her credits from her Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree at SFCC to transfer. She did a part-time, three-year program and finished with a bachelor’s degree in social services. She kept going and completed her master’s degree in social work from Eastern Washington University. She’s now working to become a licensed clinical social worker.

She’s currently the cross systems care coordinator at Excelsior Youth Center and has been an alcohol researcher and therapist at the NATIVE Project in Spokane. She’s very involved in the community too. She volunteers for the Gathering at the Falls Pow Wow and organizes a Red Road to Wellbriety event every November. When she looks back at the last 16 years, she can’t believe where she’s at today. “If it wasn’t for the instructors at SFCC, I don’t think I would’ve made it this far,” she says.

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