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Leaders of Tomorrow: How a Virtual Speaker Series at Pathways Winnipeg is Empowering Youth

This article first appeared on the website of our grantee partner Pathways to Education Canada. It is shared with permission. 

When students see themselves represented in role models, it helps to shape their self-belief and exposes them to a range of possible career paths—helping them to become the next generation of leaders in their own community and beyond.

Being a role model for youth was one of the reasons Claudette Lavallee wanted to work with young people when she became a Student Parent Support Worker at Pathways Winnipeg.

“I never had a voice when I was younger, and I always wished that I had somebody to support me and advocate for me,” Claudette says.

At Pathways Winnipeg, Claudette delivers relevant programming and one-on-one supports to help students overcome the barriers to education they face.

At the Winnipeg program location, 66 percent of students self-identified as Indigenous during the 2019-2020 school year—making representation of Indigenous role models essential for the youth they serve.

Last year, when social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic kept youth at home, Claudette wanted to find a way to help students cope with the anxiousness many reported feeling by creating a safe and welcoming setting virtually.

“We were trying different things to keep them involved—they were in a new environment online, but we wanted them to be able to talk with other people, to see other people.”

Claudette invited Shanley Spence—an Indigenous community advocate and public speaker—to give a virtual talk. Shanley shared how she dealt with her own anxiousness and extreme shyness growing up and gave tips on how to feel more confident.

“The students loved it. They really enjoyed her talk,” says Claudette. “I got lots of good feedback from the students and from parents and guardians as well.”

With the students engaged, Claudette began organizing weekly virtual talks with other prominent Indigenous figures, including sports team coaches, political representatives, and business leaders—all of whom had overcome their own adversities on their path to success.

Claudette also hopes to empower more students with different life experiences through the speaker series.

“We have a lot of newcomer students in the program so I’m lining up a few guest speakers who can share their experience of being a newcomer to Canada,” says Claudette.

She believes that initiatives like this speaker series are setting young people up for success by introducing them to a variety of positive role models.

“I think everybody should have somebody to look up to. Having a person there to guide you is so important, it changes people’s lives.”


Pathways to Education provides youth from low-income communities with the resources they need to graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty.

Behind JSF’s Mandate of Service: The Individuals Who Serve

She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.

a woman standing at a lectern with a man in the background behind her

Wanda Kirby, who is retiring from the Palm Beach County School District, receives a hand with lowering her microphone from colleague Gbolade George during the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children graduation ceremony earlier this month in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida. Photos by Coastal Click Photography.

Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.

Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.

It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.

I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.

Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.

J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.

Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.

The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.


Bobby Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Adaptability Amidst a Pandemic: Why COVID-19 Isn’t Slowing Down Divine’s Nursing Dream

Divine is a Pathways to Education alum from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from high school in 2016, she pursued a career in nursing and her goal is to work in pediatric care at a local children’s hospital. Her story first appeared on the website of Pathways, a grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, and is reprinted with permission.

Even though her graduation didn’t quite look like she’d planned, Divine, a Pathways alum and nursing school graduate, didn’t let that stop her.

“I’m really excited to start my professional life. I’m excited to be in the nursing world and advocate for the safety of the public and healthcare workers.”

Divine is on her way to becoming a registered nurse at a children’s hospital and feels it’s her responsibility to ensure those around her are well educated when it comes to health events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, she’s helping her community to stay informed and follow up-to-date safety measures.

“Through my work I get a lot of updates on how to prevent and minimize the impact that COVID-19 is going to have, so I feel a sense of personal duty to share that knowledge.”

While she’s nervous about the risk of contracting COVID-19 while working at a hospital, she’s willing to navigate that challenge to ensure the health and safety of her future patients.

“The other illnesses that people have don’t stop because of it, so I think there’s an importance for us to be there and to rise to the occasion.”

She remembers attending tutoring sessions and finding a community of peers with Pathways. However, the most impactful part of her Pathways experience was the one-on-one support she received from her Pathways mentor, Emil.

Being able to cope and continue delivering care during these times requires healthcare workers to be adaptable and resilient. Like many of her fellow Pathways alumni, these are skills Divine has been developing since she first joined the Pathways Program.

“Knowing that there was someone in my corner that I could ask questions to and that I could have their support and encouragement was significant,” says Divine.

Divine felt Emil was invested in her success. He saw potential in her and supported her passion for learning.

And when Divine’s schedule became too busy as she juggled schoolwork, volunteering, and her many extracurricular activities, Emil was there to help.

He taught her how to manage her time and prioritize her commitments, and he showed her how cultivating these skills would help make her adaptable throughout her life.

When Divine realized she wanted to become a nurse, Emil was once again there to help. He referred her to opportunities, volunteered to be her reference, and helped her apply for many post-secondary scholarships.

“Pathways really helps you see that you can do it. It helps you realize what’s inside and what you want to do, and then pushes you to make it happen,” says Divine.

Once in university, Divine faced many unique challenges, like navigating changed academic schedules caused by strikes and completing clinicals through tornado-induced power outages. Now, she’s entering the nursing field amidst a global pandemic.

But throughout it all, the adaptability and resilience Divine learned during her time at Pathways has helped her thrive.

In June 2020, Divine graduated from nursing school and is now fulfilling her dream of working in a hospital. While she knows there is still uncertainty ahead, Divine feels ready to take on the challenges she’ll face and is excited to be starting her career in pediatric care.

And although she didn’t get the graduation ceremony she was looking forward to, Divine still has a positive outlook on the future.

“Celebrating is on pause for now, but I know it’s going to happen,” says Divine. “Being resilient is vital. You have to learn to adapt to and take what life gives to you.”

Staying the Course – Mentoring First-Generation College Students During High School

The President’s Challenge Scholarship (PCS) Program at SUNY Ulster assists first-generation local students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Selected in eighth grade, students receive counseling and mentoring throughout high school.

The PCS College Mentor team, comprised of SUNY Ulster’s Enrollment and Success Center Counselors, is charged with supporting nearly 100 scholarship recipients from nine school districts across Ulster County. Their primary goal as mentors is to be a consistent resource for students – keeping them motivated and on the college-bound track.

The PCS college mentors visit with students on SUNY Ulster’s campus and several times throughout the year at their high schools. Mentors have found the most success in creating small discussion groups where they are able to assess student needs and offer individual attention. During their in-person sessions, mentors were able to use a career assessment tool called FOCUS2 to get students thinking about future career options based on their interests and strengths.

Rebecca Mercado with some of her students at Ellenville High School in early 2019.

“The PCS students have consistently surprised me with their enthusiasm and varied interests,” said Rebecca Mercado, PCS College Mentor for Ellenville and Rondout Valley high schools. “The College will be lucky to have such amazing young people as a part of our community!”

Students also have an online component to complement what they are exploring in their in-person mentor sessions. These sessions will offer them remote access to college readiness material, discussion with other scholarship recipients, and guidance from their mentor in between in-person visits. Online content will further expand each year the student is in the program as they move toward graduation from high school and entry to SUNY Ulster. Due to COVID-19, this summer’s College Mentor engagement session now includes an online connection with mentors and SUNY Ulster student leaders to challenge scholarship recipients to reflect on their experience over the past few months and encourage them to try something new before their next session.

In addition to providing a support network and getting students acclimated to online learning, mentors are also a resource for college planning. Through SUNY Ulster’s Collegian Program, students are able to complete college-level courses right at their high school. These courses not only give students a jumpstart on their college experience by offering them transferable college credits, they also are funded through the student’s scholarship. Mentors advise students on course options, including how courses will fit into their college degree programs.

While most of the PCS recipients are still in high school, this fall, four of the original group of six students from the 2016 Rondout Valley Central School District pilot program will attend SUNY Ulster full-time. One of the students from this cohort is entering her second year at SUNY Ulster, as she entered a year early. Mercado, the students’ college mentor, offered support with the admissions and financial aid process as well as with course registration. While two students chose to attend college elsewhere, Mercado was happy she was able to advocate for them on their road to college.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts

The lives of the students who attend the PCS program will be forever changed, noted Dr. Alan Roberts, SUNY Ulster President.

“PCS recipients not only accept our challenge when they enter this program, but they also make a PCS promise and sign our pledge book by committing to being responsible students who are active in and out of the classroom by choosing and acting with kindness, having an open mind and being ready to learn new perspectives, setting a good example for others, and making every effort to participate in PCS activities. In turn, we promise to build relationships through mentorship experiences and donor engagement opportunities during their time in high school, continuing to motivate them to act on their future educational plans in real-time.

“The students entering universities in the fall are stellar success stories who have become the ultimate beneficiaries of the support and guidance received from four years of mentorship in the program,” Roberts added. “I am proud to serve as a champion for the success of PCS students through their educational pathways and entry to SUNY Ulster.”

To learn more about the PCS Program and how you can support these first-generation college-bound students, visit our website: www.sunyulster.edu/presidentschallenge.

Nancy S. Clarke is Administrative Program Coordinator for the President’s Challenge Scholarship Program at SUNY Ulster. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

College Tours Give Students a Taste of the Higher Education Experience

Recently, the Johnson Scholars Program of the School District of Palm Beach County in collaboration with Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County (jointly known as the JSTSIC Program) facilitated college tours to three colleges. Students were able to choose one of two trips: A local tour and research presentation at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton or a trip to Orlando that included both Valencia College-East Campus and University of Central Florida.

Group of 6 students in front of I love FAU sign

College tours are one of several components of the JSTSIC program that serves more than 400 students throughout Palm Beach County each year. Students in the program are mentored from 9th grade through high school graduation by a community mentor. Each has access to college coaches throughout high school as well, and each receives a two-year Florida Prepaid scholarship.

The college tours help our students have tangible contact with the college experience, increasing their motivation toward achieving post-secondary success. On the recent tours, each school showcased programs and support services specific to each institution, and our students were able to see college life as they moved throughout the campuses.

Young man working at a computer

Florida Atlantic University showcased an engaging research initiative in which students learned how to research from their freshman year. They learned how to research areas of interest in which they would like to invest. They were able to see the campus during Homecoming as the campus was preparing for the night’s homecoming game.

University of Central Florida, also in the middle of their homecoming week, allowed our students to see college students participate in their annual “fountain run, known as Spirit Splash where students run into the Reflecting Pond and collect rubber duckies. Besides the fun they got an informative look at the overall campus, which included support systems and programs offered by UCF.

Large group of students holding Valencia College banners

Valencia College showcased a few unique programs offered to its students. Officials explained to our students that graduates of Valencia are automatically accepted into UCF. The two schools’ programs are linked, which helps students to transfer smoothly from state college into the university system. Valencia showcased its Fire and Rescue Department and Agricultural Science Department, and students saw a presentation in Graphic Interactive Design.

Gbolade George was educated in the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, and he has worked in the district for 21 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral disorders in education from the University of South Florida. He is in his third year as resource teacher and mentor facilitator for the Johnson Scholars Program.