Cree-Ann Henderson was working a shift last hockey season when one of the coolest things in her young life happened.
"I saw Evander Kane," the 17-year-old St. John's High School student said Thursday of seeing the Winnipeg Jets forward. "He was walking 10 feet away from me. For me, it was pretty amazing."
Henderson is one of a handful of St. John's students participating in the province's After School Matters program in which businesses such as True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd., owner of the Winnipeg Jets, and four smaller organizations including the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, Graffiti Gallery, Freeze Frame Manitoba and inner-city community agency Ka Ni Kanichihk, hire at-risk students for part-time work.
Currently, there are 24,065 students participating in similar mentorship programs throughout the province, the majority in Manitoba's north.
The province is now recruiting eight more Winnipeg businesses, with a focus on science and communications, to participate in the after-school mentorship program so more students can get involved.
"For a lot of young people, they haven't been exposed to the incredible amount of opportunities that are out there," Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief said Thursday. "They don't even know these jobs exist."
Henderson has been a ticket-taker and usher at the MTS Centre for the past year, along with schoolmates Tommy Raven, 17, Chadd Champagne-Valentin, 17, and Kelsey Lands, 18. Champagne-Valentin and Raven work behind the scenes keeping the MTS Centre clean. Lands is also a ticket-taker and usher. The four are paid minimum wage and work about 16 hours a week during the NHL season.
True North's Robert Thorsten, vice-president of people and patron services, said the Jets' participation in the program has been such a success four more students and possibly more will be hired for the coming hockey season.
Thorsten said the four students are engaged employees.
"Their managers speak very highly of the them," he said.
Raven and Champagne-Valentin said while they get a chance to work during Jets home games, they're usually too busy to watch.
"I pretty much can't pay attention," Champagne-Valentin said.
St. John's guidance counsellor, Jim Anastasiadis, said besides work experience and earning money, the students also develop self-confidence and a greater willingness to participate in other school activities. "They're more willing to try new and different things," he said. "They become more well-rounded people."
Without this chance of working at the MTS Centre, Anastasiadis said these kids could fall through the cracks.
"They could slide into any number of things," he said. Chief also said young aboriginal people are the fastest-growing segment of the population in Canada, and businesses like True North are eager to take advantage of that.
"For a lot of these young people, we're seeing them exposed to areas that they and their families have never been exposed to," he said, adding the program also allows students to think about life after high school.
"They're starting to set goals. When you start to set goals, you have more discipline."