Recently, I was honoured to be invited back to tour the Winnipeg Aboriginal Achievement Centre’s (WASAC) Summer Kids Camp along with Gary Doer, Canadian Ambassador to the United States and former NDP Premier of Manitoba, and his wife Ginny Devine to help highlight WASAC’s stories of success.
It was exciting to see kids arrive by bus for their first day of camp, hear the energizing music and look at all the bright orange T-shirts of camp leaders welcoming participants from North End Schools like Norquay and Machray. All these scenes brought back memories of my time as executive director of WASAC, experiences that helped prepare me to become an MLA and Manitoba’s first-ever Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities.
Camp leaders Melissa St. Mars and Sterling Muskego led us around the camp at the Old Ex Arena. The week-long experience focuses on sport, recreational, and cultural activities and is offered at no cost to Aboriginal children who otherwise couldn’t afford to go.
The camp promotes summer learning which helps prepare students to re-enter school in September. By providing mentorship, training and role models, campers gain important skills as they grow into camp leaders. WASAC hosts over 1,500 participants each summer and has assisted in the development of over 800 youth leaders since the program started in 1999.
WASAC’s stories of success are created by providing enrichment opportunities outside of the classroom — after school, during the weekends and in the summer months. We know this approach increases academic achievement, graduation rates and engages the broader community in activities for young people.
As we ended our tour, Ambassador Doer, Ginny Devine and I were presented with special dream catchers thanking us for our visit to the camp and square dancers performed a special "Washington Jig" in their honour.
It was great to have the opportunity to speak to the kids and share the idea that anything is possible if they stay in school and work hard. Over 200 camp participants and youth leaders shouted the Obama-style message, "Yes, we can!". to their guests.
"They make you very proud of their can-do attitude," said Ambassador Doer, who promised to deliver their message to President Obama.