JUNE 21, 2022

“Based on my experience, and as someone with a Métis background, I can relate to some of the challenges that Indigenous students are facing today. I think it’s important for us to support and uplift each other when we can. Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several mentors throughout my career and found them to be beneficial to my own growth.”

In 2021, First West launched a scholarship and bursary program aimed at supporting Indigenous students with their post-secondary studies. Thus far, the program has awarded $25,000 to 12 students. Although monetary support is a crucial component to their academic success, it isn’t the only one— another unique benefit we’ve been able to provide these students with is an opportunity to be paired up with a First West mentor.

Enter Jennifer Richie. Jennifer is currently a Supervisor at our Member Advice Centre and a member of our Indigenous Employee Network Group. When the opportunity came up to mentor one of our Indigenous Scholarship recipients, she eagerly put up her hand.

Jennifer has been paired up with Madison Downey, a second-year business student at the University of Victoria who was selected as one of the scholarship recipients this year. Madison is a first-generation student who is self-funding her studies. Shared experiences have been helpful in the early stages of their mentoring relationship. “Maddie’s journey and my own have some similarities, so I know the challenges, obstacles and fulfillment that can come with finding your own path.”

Although their mentoring relationship is still in its infancy, the interactions have been meaningful thus far.“Honestly, it’s been fantastic—she’s such a sweet and brilliant individual and being able to listen to her, chime in where I can and build a connection has such a positive impact on me. I look forward to our chats and at the very least, after all of this, she’ll have a new cheerleader wishing her nothing but success.”

Plans to further build out the program have Jennifer excited, as First West continues to walk alongside these students to provide mentorship, education, and potential employment opportunities to help kick-start their careers.

“It makes me proud to work for an organization that is truly committed to leading well in our communities and backs up our funding support with meaningful opportunities like this. As more of these mentorship opportunities arise, I strongly encourage others to step into them. The path you’ve taken to get to the place you are today may be different, and you may not know all the answers, but sometimes it’s about stories you share or perspective you have that can help.”

Madison hopes that her education will contribute to her ultimate goal of making fine arts and theatre more accessible to youth and low-income individuals. Based on this strong community focus, it looks like she found the perfect organization and mentor to help her on that journey.

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