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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.

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.”

Bus Tickets, Pathways to Education, and Potential Greatness

Growing up, I had always had a bit of trouble when it came to academics, especially math. I couldn’t easily understand numbers as much as I wanted to. As the courses advanced, I found myself more and more confused than I had been the year before. In 2013, when I was starting Grade 9, I came across an opportunity to join a program called Pathways to Education. The flyer detailed all the resources the program provided to its participants, and it was all without cost.

To anyone reading this flyer, I’m sure the opportunity would sound too good to be true. I was not excited. I was offended that I was being offered tutoring. Unrightfully so, I had a negative outlook about tutoring, even though no one placed these notions in my mind. I don’t know where the mindset came from, but because of it, I did not register for a program that would have helped my Grade 9 year flow a lot smoother. This was a decision that I regret to this day.

For me, the bus tickets weren’t the only beneficial aspect . What had me coming back to the program every day was the incredible support at Pathways. The staff genuinely wanted to see the students succeed. Their help was never-ending, and it really made me feel welcomed very quickly. When at tutoring, they were quick to set me up with a volunteer who walked me through my math unit. They taught me the subject in such a clear way that I finally had that “eureka!” moment I long desired. The staff and volunteers helped me succeed through high school more than I ever imagined.

Since beginning the program, I have talked to the staff there as if they were friends. I would seek out advice from them, which helped my decision-making skills in the long run. I made connections with the trusted staff that I never thought I could make. They made me feel as if I had a voice– a voice worth listening to.

Youth tend to feel unimportant and parented by those in authority, so having mentors that understood and listened was worth a thousand words. Now I have connections that will last a life time, as well as loving friends who were also in the program. I give some of the credit of my successes to the Pathways program because without it, I never would have realized that I have potential for greatness.

Sidra is a recent graduate of Pathways to Education Canada, an organization that provides youth from low-income communities with the resources they need to graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty.

Why Volunteering Matters to Young People

The following article was written by Korinne, a Pathways to Education graduate from Shawinigan, Quebec. Pathways and JSF are proud to join Korinne in celebrating National Volunteer Week and the countless volunteers who donate their time and expertise to help young people achieve success.

It’s National Volunteer Week in Canada right now, and this annual celebration has inspired me to reflect on the important role volunteers have played in my life.

I will always remember Joanie, a volunteer who truly made a difference in my academic journey.

She was a volunteer tutor at Pathways to Education, and she spent many long hours helping me with my math homework.

I struggled a lot with math in high school, so her support made a big difference. I would often get quite discouraged and had a hard time motivating myself. But Joanie never gave up on me. She was infinitely patient and her contagious energy made it seem like math wasn’t the worst after all.

Two women with one wearing graduation cap and gown

It was after many long and demanding tutoring sessions that I realized how much Joanie had invested — not just in me, but in many other teenagers — and how important that time was to me.

Joanie helped me realize just how much I could accomplish. And that if I was able to overcome my struggles, everyone else could as well.

So, when I graduated from high school, I became a volunteer to help others, like Joanie helped me. It was a way to say ‘thank you’ to Joanie and to the other volunteers who supported not just me, but my entire community.

I strongly believe that volunteering at organizations like Pathways to Education is incredibly important for community growth. Some young people have trouble finding a caring and supportive framework during high school. It makes a big difference to have access to volunteers in safe environments that help you feel welcomed, supported in your studies and comfortable sharing how you’re doing.

Because of this, I think it’s important for cities to invest more in community involvement and to create additional opportunities for people to take part. I also think we can do a better job of making volunteering accessible and appealing to a younger crowd.

Donating their time can be a really powerful way for young people to enjoy the community they live in, and I encourage communities to invest in more meaningful volunteer opportunities that reflect youth interests, such as sports events, food festivals, and local shows.

The easier it is for young people to see themselves represented in volunteer opportunities, the more likely they’ll be to participate — creating a strong culture of volunteerism from a young age, and benefitting communities for generations to come.

Looking back today, it’s easy for me to see that volunteering has always been a huge part of my life. Whether it took the form of supportive tutors like Joanie or my own volunteering roles, volunteering has made me who I am, and I will always be always be grateful for that.