Alex Johnstone had no idea taking on a part-time position with Growing Young Movers in her grade 12 year would lead to her first job after high school.
Johnstone, a recent graduate from Regina’s Scott Collegiate, became a youth mentor with G.Y.M. after executive director, Brian Lewis, introduced her to the program in her leadership class.
“I got started as a mentor and liked it immediately,” says Johnstone. “Seeing the kids smile after a long day and knowing that we made an impact was awesome.”
When the COVID-19 virus hit Regina, G.Y.M. was forced to shut down temporarily, leaving Johnstone and other mentors without a job.
“Getting shutdown because of COVID was a major downfall for me,” says Johnstone. “I didn’t get to work as long as I was supposed to. It was hard because I loved being with the kids.”
Luckily, she wasn’t out of work for long before G.Y.M. expanded on their partnership with the City of Regina. In Summer 2020, Johnstone and other G.Y.M. youth mentors began working alongside employees of the City of Regina’s PlayEscapes program at the mâmawêyatitân centre.
The PlayEscapes program is an inclusive summer program that focuses on engaging in leader-facilitated play to develop life skills and physical activity in youth.
Courtney Domoney, Community Consultant with the City of Regina, oversaw the summer program.
“We had six Growing Young Movers mentors join PlayEscapes out of the mâmawêyatitân centre,” says Domoney. “I was impressed. There wasn’t any distinction between the City staff and G.Y.M. staff, they were both really involved with the kids.”
The partnership between G.Y.M. and the City of Regina at the PlayEscapes program continued throughout the summer, providing previously unemployed G.Y.M. youth mentors with a summer position in their community. Once the summer program came to a close, Domoney encouraged the G.Y.M. mentors to apply for an ongoing causal recreation worker position with the City of Regina.
Johnstone jumped at the chance to continue working with youth after graduation.
“I would have been interested in this kind of position before G.Y.M. but wouldn’t have had the confidence to actually apply,” says Johnstone.
She was nervous to put in her application, but it wasn’t long before she was invited for an interview and offered the job.
“It was a little shocking at first that I could get a job with these skills,” says Johnstone. “It was crazy to me that I could go from this little job [with G.Y.M] and transition to a big job.”
Dave Slater, Coordinator of Community Wellbeing and Inclusion for the City of Regina, says the G.Y.M mentors bring a unique skill set and perspective to the City.
“Each one of the mentors comes to the program with their own lived experiences,” says Slater. “I think that’s, beyond anything, the most important piece.”
Domoney says increasing Indigenous employment is also one of the City’s priorities.
“I know there are many talented young people in our community,” says Domoney. “I want to see them have the opportunity to grow.”
“Diversifying our workforce continues to be a priority for the City of Regina and this is a really meaningful way to do that,” says Slater. "When children have access to programming spaces and are afforded the opportunity to play and learn alongside mentors from the same cultural background or lived experience, it creates a very welcoming and inclusive environment."
Moving forward, both G.Y.M. and the City of Regina hope to continue to grow the program and create continuing employment opportunities for Indigenous youth in Regina.
Johnstone is hopeful that more youth can benefit from the partnership like she has.
“Working at G.Y.M. opened a lot of doors that I didn’t know would be opened when I started, leading me to bigger things,” says Johnstone. “I hope other youth mentors get just as many opportunities as me through G.Y.M. and hopefully continue that into working with the City.”