Ten young adults from Winnipeg’s inner city recently returned from the trip of a lifetime.
The kids — youth leaders at Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre — travelled to Washington, D.C., for a four-day tour of th U.S. capital from Oct. 17-20. The trip was arranged by Kevin Chief, Manitoba’s minister of children and youth opportunities, and Ginny Devine, wife of Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer.
This past summer, Doer and Devine toured the WASAC summer kids’ camp, along with Chief, who is the co-founder and former executive director of WASAC.
"Sterling (Muskego), one of the youth leaders had just beaten leukemia and he was their tour guide," Chief said. "They were really touched by Sterling and some of the other kids at WASAC, so Ginny and I met up after and we started coming up with the idea of ‘Wouldn’t it be great to give them a tour of Washington from the ambassador’s perspective?’ They would get access to some things the average person doesn’t get."
To raise money for the trip, Chief solicited funding from such places as the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation and E.H. Price.
On top of those funds, the youth leaders and community members held a From Winnipeg to Washington fundraising social on Oct. 12 at the North Centennial Recreation Facility.
At the other end, Devine set up an itinerary for the D.C. visit, which included trips to the Smithsonian Institute, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, a Washington Capitals hockey game, the Canadian Embassy and a barbecue at Devine and Doer’s home.
"They are very welcoming," said Kelsey Lands, 19, one of the WASAC youth leaders. "When we got to the ambassador’s residence, Doer was wearing his Jets jersey. I loved that because I work at the MTS Centre (in event staff) and every time I see a Jets jersey it brings excitement to me."
"It was very exhilarating," added Lynden Travers, 17, another WASAC youth leader. "He (Doer) told us it’s our building too, because we’re Canadian. It was a privilege to be there, a very awesome experience."
"He (Doer) was super-relaxed," says Sarah Zacharias, WASAC program coordinator. "He was the one who cooked all the hotdogs and burgers, and Ginny came out with bowls of ice cream for everyone. It was like having Thanksgiving dinner with your mom and dad."
It wasn’t all burgers and ice cream. The trip included a visit to the Holocaust Museum, which Lands says was especially difficult and all too real.
Devine says she listened in on the kids’ sharing circle after their visit to the museum.
"They started talking about their impressions and takeaway from the Holocaust Museum, and it was really moving," Devine said. "To hear how much they got out of it, they’re not kids who have a lot of material wealth, and they were talking about how lucky they are."
Chief says Doer was really touched by what he heard in the sharing circle as well.
"He was touched by the pride many of them talked about when they went to the indigenous Smithsonian site and saw there is some Manitoba stuff in Washington."
"The kids really took a lot of lessons from the trip and I think they’re excited to share the things they have learned with the broader community."