THUNDER BAY - A substantial endowment will help pave the way for thousands of Indigenous youth in Northwestern Ontario interested in pursuing a post-secondary education for years to come.
On Wednesday, the Joyce Family Foundation gifted $1 million to the Lakehead University Aboriginal Mentorship Program, which provides Indigenous students an opportunity to learn more about post-secondary education and the opportunities that await.
“This is huge,” said Peggy Smith, interim vice provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University. “A lot of our Indigenous programming is dependent on short term government funding. So having $1-million endowment allows for us to guarantee being able to offer that program year after year, whether than wondering if we are going to have enough funding.”
The Aboriginal Mentorship Program pairs Indigenous high school and public school students with university students at Lakehead. The students travel to communities to discuss some of the opportunities that exist at university, and Indigenous students also travel to Lakehead to gain important research skills, public speaking skills, and confidence.
“It’s an important program because it not only helps to build confidences, but it breaks down barriers as well and allows more even pathways to university and post-secondary education,” said Lisa Harris, Aboriginal Mentorship Program coordinator.
The money from the endowment will primarily be used to fund travel for Indigenous students in the region, Harris said.
“In the last year we worked with about 3,000 youth,” she said. “This will help us to bring those numbers up to possibly 4,000 or 5,000.”
The Joyce Family Foundation, founded by entrepreneur, Ronald V. Joyce, has funded similar programs across Canada.
“The Joyce Foundation has a program in place where the funded other programs at Canadian universities to help disadvantage youth pursue an education,” Smith said. “They really liked the Aboriginal Mentorship Program for the opportunities it is giving Indigenous youth.”
Harris added when she learned about the $1-million endowment, she was thrilled, because the program will continue for years to come, helping more and more Indigenous students pursue post-secondary education.
“It gives us the opportunity to continue the program in perpetuity, which is so important,” she said. “A lot of the youth we work with have very little in way of resources, so this is incredible important for them.”