Students come ALIVE at symposium

·5 min read

WASAGAMING — Community-driven youth gathered in Riding Mountain National Park for a retreat to enhance their leadership and volunteer skills last week.

Manitoba ALIVE brought together high school students from across Manitoba for a symposium designed to develop critical their leadership and volunteering skills. About 20 students arrived in Wasagaming Thursday and departed Saturday with enhanced skills and a new outlook on life.

Symposium director Keith Macpherson described the cohort of students as brimming with heartfelt empathy, compassion and acceptance. The symposium was designed to help students enhance these traits and uncover their passions for the benefit of their communities.

"We’re inspiring youth to take a really good look at who they actually are and authentically living into who they are meant to be," Macpherson said.

The young people were nominated by their schools to attend Manitoba ALIVE based on having the potential to be a leader in their community. The initiative looks for students who embody empathy, understanding and are looking to change the world.

The next generation must be brave trailblazers, Macpherson said, because the world is relying on them to stand up and speak authentically.

"We’re in a world right now that is very volatile, complex and uncertain, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next," Macpherson said. "To be really giving the tools and planting the seeds in the next generation about how to move from that place from more reactive tendency in leadership to more of a creative place is really crucial."

Symposium director Courtney Mandock attended Manitoba ALIVE in 2010 as a Grade 11 student.

"I got so much out of it as a student that when I was asked to come back as a counsellor, I immediately jumped on it," Mandock said.

"Every year seeing the students grow and then the growth I get from seeing the students grow always brings me back."

Manitoba ALIVE helped her see it was OK to be different and have unique passions, she said. Mandock enjoys being able to pass on the message of "be true to yourself and you are going to find the group that fits with you" to others.

Mandock has a Canadian pageant title and is a female engineer in training. She also experienced depression and anxiety while in university.

"I shared my journey with them, and that’s so powerful to me to show them at this age what I wish I would have known at their age," Mandock said.

High school is often a challenging time for students as they are putting a mask on to fit in, Mandock said. Manitoba ALIVE offers young people a chance to step back and explore who they are without fear of judgment.

It is an inspiring atmosphere, and she enjoys being able to see students come out of their shells and take on new challenges. Everyone works together to create a safe space where students can connect with like-minded young people.

"Someone saw something in them … let’s start that spark and let’s make it into a fire," Mandock said. "Let’s take it and build it up so they can be passionate and bring something back to their communities and back to their schools."

Killarney School Grade 11 student Elle Labossiere signed up for the program as soon as she learned about the leadership symposium from her guidance counsellor.

"I was really excited right away because it sounded awesome," Labossiere said. "I knew it was going to be a fun time and we were going to learn new skills."

The retreat has been action-packed and allowed her to make new friends and learn new skills. Labossiere said she will take these skills back to Killarney to help better her community. It can be challenging finding volunteer opportunities in Killarney, she said, because there are not as many options in comparison to cities like Winnipeg.

Now she can create opportunities in her community.

"Now, I can do more I feel like because I know what it [volunteering] is," Labossiere said. "I never thought I would connect with so many people. I can start up a conversation with anyone [now]."

West Lynn Heights School teacher Laura Kelly travelled from Lynn Lake with two students, Paris Johnson and Lenaya Farrow-Pronteau, to attend Manitoba ALIVE.

Her students have been transformed by their experience, Kelly said. It has been incredible to see how much their confidence has grown. They are excited to return to their community to share what they have learned.

Winnipeg-based Fort Richmond Collegiate Grade 11 student Eduardo Folly Betrao said it felt like serendipity when he learned the trip would take place during his 17th birthday.

It was exciting for him to celebrate the occasion in Clear Lake as it felt like a winter wonderland. He appreciated the peace of the spring thaw and it felt like they had the park to themselves.

It was a liberating experience attending Manitoba ALIVE, he said.

"It’s about freedom because I feel like there is a lot of pressure when we are in normal communities because the community has its own beliefs and attitudes," Folly Betrao said. "Everyone here was open and already knew that we would accept you no matter what, and we shared that idea of respect."

Participants were open and unafraid to be themselves participating in activities they would never normally participate in.

It was an incredible opportunity because they were a diverse group of students with unique life experiences, Folly Betrao said, but they were able to talk and connect in a powerful way.

"We all share our core beliefs the same way which is what allowed us to all be really OK already each other from the start," Folly Betrao said. "I think everyone should have the opportunity to feel what it’s like to be your full self … and not be afraid of showing who you are."

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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