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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.