originally appeared here: http://www.westernwheel.com/article/20141119/WHE0302/311199983/-1/whe/student-gets-extra-credit-for-initiative

A university student who continuously strives to help others received special recognition from her home community this fall.

Since childhood, Erin Vance has been known for extending a hand to those requiring assistance – whether it be animals needing a home or peers struggling in school – and it was something the Sheep Creek Arts Council couldn’t ignore.

The arts council awards scholarships to students within the busing zone of Oilfields High School who are pursuing fine arts in post secondary school, yet this year scholarship coordinator Muriel Dais was so impressed with former Black Diamond resident Vance’s application, which didn’t quite fit the fine arts requirements, she presented her with $500 in what will likely be a one-time award.

Another $500 award went to Blair Jeffery, an Oilfields High School graduate who is in her second year of studies at the Alberta College of Art and Design.

“Her application form was so unusual, the fact that the girl has done so much,” Dais said of Vance. “She’s been doing all kinds of personal publishing and writing for all these years, but she’s also heavily involved with the autistic group and she’s also sponsoring a young girls’ writers group. I don’t know how she manages to do all she’s doing.”

Dais said some years the arts council doesn’t receive any requests for the scholarships, therefore she was pleasantly surprised to see such high-quality applications this year.

For years, the arts council has been able to award two students with $500 scholarships from Alberta Gaming Commission Funds, and this year received permission to increase the scholarship to $1,000 each.

Dais believes that might be the reasons for the increase in applicants.

Vance, who is in her third year of studies at the University of Calgary, said she is ecstatic to receive the award.

“I was completely blown away and honoured that somebody felt strongly about the things I felt strongly about,” she said.

Vance said she began working with the Autism Asperger’s Friendship Society of Calgary as a private developmental aid working with children and adults during her second year studying English literature and creative writing at the University of Calgary.

“Every single one of them is incredible in their own way,” she said of the people she works with. “It expands to the rest of your life – problem solving, keeping an open mind and having that respect for people like how they think differently and how they see things differently and letting them open your eyes to different ways of thinking and seeing.”

In addition to her job, Vance volunteers for the university’s Students for Literacy initiative, designed to help adults learn to read and write, and is currently tutoring a woman with Down syndrome.

“We’ve become really close over the last couple of years,” she said. “One of the highlights of my entire week is to work with her talking about novel studies and writing stories.”

Vance said she is working toward being a professor in academics so she can work with children with disabilities professionally.

“I’m passionate about disability studies,” she said. “Anybody who doesn’t have a voice like children, people with disabilities, people of different races, women in a lot of cases, I want to give them a voice.”

Vance said she was recognized for her volunteer work last year when she received a scholarship for her work with the school community by the university.

Vance’s mom Jennifer, who lives east of Black Diamond, said she is not surprised her daughter was awarded for her efforts considering everything she accomplished the last couple of years.

Jennifer recalls when her daughter was eight years old she made and sold bracelets at the Millarville Farmers’ Market so she could donate the proceeds toward animal rescue, and in Grade 12 she helped a boy in her school who had autism.

“She’s always been one to help other people,” she said. “When she sets her mind to something she does it. There’s not stopping her really.”

Recipients of the 2014 Sheep Creek Arts Council’s fine arts scholarship are Oilfields High School graduate Katie Campbell, who is in her first year of studies at SAIT’s new media production and design program, and Holy Trinity Academy graduate Elizabeth Burney, who is a dance major in her second year at the University of Calgary.

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