Native ambassador program reaches out to youth

Whether it’s due to a lack of financial, educational or even motivational backing, a post-secondary education can seem out of reach for many Aboriginal youth. The Native Ambassador Post-Secondary Initiative program, based out of the university’s Native Centre, is working to change that. NAPI works through educational outreach and leadership training to help inspire youth to reach their academic ambitions, and has had a successful year so far.

Started in 2002, NAPI works to make post-secondary education more attainable to the Aboriginal community through educational outreach and leadership training.

Though NAPI targets Aboriginal youth in high school, their goal is to motivate students of all grades and ages into pursuing post-secondary education. This year NAPI worked with 4,182 youths in both the outreach and training programs, almost double last year.

“We want to empower ourselves and our communities through education,” said project coordinator Suzana Rymak. “It really is about making that one-stop-shop for post-secondary options to Aboriginal youth. We bring together our four post-secondary collaborators in Calgary; Mount Royal University, SAIT, Bow Valley College and of course the University of Calgary.”

When NAPI started in 2002, the focus was on mentorship.

“We realized that focus hadn’t been working and we wanted to be responsive to our participants, so it gradually evolved into leadership training and education outreach,” said Rymak.

NAPI’s educational outreach consists of motivational presentations of ambassadors’ own personal academic journey.

“[It’s] just being real with the youth about their struggles and successes and how they’ve come to be where they are in their post-secondary program,” said Rymak

“I believed I was somehow less because of how I was portrayed in books or because of complete omission of my people in the history books and everywhere else,” said Cindy Deschenes, a NAPI ambassador. “Now here I am in a position to help Aboriginal youth recognize this is all an illusion and that we as Aboriginal people are as every bit valuable to society as our white brothers and sisters.”

Rymak says the program and staff really inspire her. “The program seeks to empower the individual and in turn the community”

The main focus, however, is leadership training. NAPI offers three levels of training, personal, team and community leadership. Once each level is completed, the participant receives a certificate from the University of Calgary. And leadership growth is not limited to the training NAPI offers.

“NAPI is unique in terms of the mentorship piece and having student staff telling their own stories and facilitating,” Rymak said. “We want to help the youth empower themselves but we also want personal growth for our staff as well. It’s really practicing what we’re preaching.”

For more information please contact Suzana Rymak, or visit the Native Centre on the third floor of MacEwan Student Centre.

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