BELLEVILLE – After a life of tremendous obstacles, Betty Cornelius created a way for others to not have to suffer like she did.
Born and raised in Alberta, Cornelius had a different childhood than most. Her mother put her up for adoption shortly after she was born, and it was her grandmother that took her home from the hospital and began raising her.
As she grew older her grandmother became ill and she had to move back in with her mom. It was not long before Cornelius found out that she was pregnant and moved out of her mother's house.
"I married somebody 10 years older than me, so he was 26 and I was 15 when we first got together, so I mean who would even allow their daughter to be dating somebody like that?" she said.
"My son was blind, deaf, crippled, and multiple handicapped," she said, referring to severe complications at birth that resulted in brain damage.
Shortly after their son's birth, her husband took to drinking and began behaving inappropriately. Cornelius left with her two children and moved into a house beside her mother.
When her first born son was 11, her mother was beaten to death. At the time Cornelius was 26 and grief stricken and that's when her son started acting out. As he grew older things didn't change.
Her son eventually had a child of his own and that's when Cornelius came up with the idea of CANGRANDS, Canadian grandparents raising grandchildren, after she was denied access to her first grandchild.
"My heart was broken and I thought I can’t be the only one, so I put a little ad in the paper. I thought I'll find two or three other people," she said.
Cornelius didn't realize that there was going to be a lot more than three people in the same boat.
"Twenty-six people called me from my ad.They were crying and telling me horror stories about being denied access to their grandchild or the other side of it, raising their grandchildren," she said.
A year and a half later her son had another child with a different women.
The Children's Aid Society was involved three days after the birth because the baby was born with a triple heart condition, stomach hernia, and a collapsed lung due to her mom's drinking and drug use.
"So the writing was on the wall that I was going to probably end up with this baby, and after three and half years I ended up with custody," Cornelius said.
"I had to sign a piece of paper saying they were giving her to me rather than CAS taking her away from me and putting her with strangers," Cornelius explained.
Shortly after taking custody of her grandchild, Ashley, her son and his partner got cut off of welfare and took Cornelius to court to regain custody of their daughter.
"We spent the next two and a half years in court with them having free legal aid lawyers and me spending $28,000 getting custody of a child that I already had in my care," she explained.
Cornelius decided to take matters into her own hands and got Bill 27 started. The bill is made to protect the rights of grandparents because at the time, Ontario didn't have anything of that nature already in place. She explained that over the past 19 years, she has fought for different bills to be put in place, including Bill 34, which gives grandparents the right to go to court and ask for access to their grandchildren.
"It won’t help me with my first beautiful grandchild, but it will help those behind me and that's why I continue to do it," she explained.
Cornelius won the custody battle of Ashley and continued to raise her as her own. She hasn't spoken to her son in over 19 years now.
Cornelius sees her grandmother as a big inspiration in her life and a big reason why she started the organization CANGRANDS.
"My grandma always told me that God didn’t make junk and I was worthwhile. It was a good foundation and it stayed with me," she said.
Cornelius says she believes that she's always had it in her blood to start an organization like CANGRANDS.
"It's what I know. Even my mom, as messed up as she was, she did foster children and there was always extra people at the table," she explained.
Cornelius continues to help out grandparents and even uncles and aunts to gain access to their grandchildren, nieces and nephews for a better life.
"My goal is to leave the world better than I found it. If I can make somebody smile or somebody feel better in one day then I can sleep well at night," she said.