Following International Women's Day, it seems only fitting when Christine Cyr speaks of the many champions, all women, who have helped her become the force she is today in the community.
And now Cyr is paying it forward by becoming a champion to many youth in Winnipeg who need a little support and guidance to pursue a post-secondary education.
Cyr grew up in the North End of Winnipeg, the oldest of seven children, facing the many challenges of living in poverty. She credits the many women she met along the way, "the champions of her life," for giving her a little nudge of encouragement to focus on her future and attain a university degree.
When asked about some of the first champions she can remember in her life, she says her earliest memories of champions were the nuns who taught in her residential school. She says they would speak kindly to her, hold her hand and make sure all of children in her family had school supplies at the start of every year. She says there are many others who have literally been "guardian angels" along the way, enabling her to achieve so much, including her four sisters, close in age, who have been a source of constant encouragement.
For Cyr, education is key. For the last 13 years, she has worked as the program co-ordinator for aboriginal recruitment at the University of Manitoba. She started the Post-Secondary Club program for high school students who may be struggling to stay motivated or lack the support to pursue a post-secondary education, which she knows all too well from her own past.
"When I used to think about university when I was younger, I never believed I could do it," recalls Cyr. "I was so shy. But it changed the very course of my life."
When she first started working at the University of Manitoba, she knew she had to approach recruitment in a different way. After talking with numerous high school students, she realized she needed to see them more regularly. She started to volunteer her time after hours to work with students in three high schools, taking them on group outings, being a constant support in their lives. She recognized some youth were desperate to learn more about their culture, so she began taking the students on educational outings to sweat lodges and different events.
"Many of the youth I work with face enormous challenges just to even get to school," Cyr says.
The busy single mother of three grown children and a five-year-old boy also volunteers on boards of various community agencies, including her youngest son's former daycare centre. She is also a member of the board of trustees as well as the chairwoman of the aboriginal relations council at the United Way of Winnipeg.
"Under Christine's leadership, the council has moved from a local volunteer network to providing national leadership in areas such as aboriginal-focused philanthropy in Canada," said Ayn Wilcox, chair of the United Way board of trustees.
On Jan. 25, Cyr received the Community Service Award from the Future Leaders of Manitoba for her volunteer work in the community.
"Christine has an unmitigated drive to mentor and create opportunities for aboriginal youth," says Chris Loewen, president of Future Leaders of Manitoba. "Through her work with various community organizations, as well as at the University of Manitoba, she provides relevant guidance and options for those who might otherwise be overlooked or ignored."
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at firstname.lastname@example.org.