STONEY NAKODA – Students of the Bearspaw Empowerment Employment Program (BEEP) walked the stage in Stoney Nakoda last Thursday (Sept. 26) as teachers had tears in their eyes brimming with pride for the recent graduates.
"It is a never-ending world of learning, so it is exciting for young people, especially for people who want to go out for opportunities ... so thank you everyone for coming," Debbie Dixon, program coordinator and Bearspaw Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Manager, said.
Introduced on the Stoney Nakoda Nation last fall, the program aims to empower adults by teaching soft and hard skills such as punctuality, time management and communication skills, to increase success for employment opportunities.
This was the second batch of graduates this year.
"Thank you for believing in me and pushing me," one BEEP graduate said emotionally during her ceremony speech.
Learning self-confidence, communication skills and getting out of their comfort zones was a common theme for the 19 graduates who took part in the second BEEP graduation at the Bearspaw Youth Centre – and it was noted by dignitaries who congratulated them on their achievements.
"This is what we want to see. Graduation is so important, getting a job and supporting yourself ... education is the only way to support yourselves," elder Charles Powderface said.
Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon echoed the elder’s statements and said this is a small stepping-stone to the beginning of whatever it is the new graduates set out to do.
"I congratulate you all ... education and training is very important to us. Education is the ticket to freedom," he said.
Funded through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), the goal is to alleviate child poverty and promote independence and self-sufficiency, Debbie explained.
"We try to instill how important it is to be self-sufficient," she said.
With a background of working in income support, the Bearspaw Indigenous Skills Employment Training Manager knows how hard it can be for someone to support themselves, or a family, without a job.
Telling stories of how she used to cry with her income support clients when there were no more resources available to help Nation members, Debbie said sometimes she used to invite clients over for supper just to make sure they had a meal that night.
"I knew if I stayed in that job I would exhausts myself," she said.
So when the human resources position opened up with opportunities to help band and Nation members find employment, she knew her real passion was for helping people and applied.
Now offering the Employment Empowerment Program to all three bands on the Nation, Bearspaw, Wesley and Chiniki, students are trained in resumé writing, public speaking and giving presentations – all designed to also increase confidence.
"Seeing the students on the first day, they are really reserved and quiet, then the last month-and-a-half in the program you really get to see them open up," Debbie said.
So far, the results speak for themselves.
The first set of students graduated in March with 19 nation members receiving their diplomas and 15 graduates finding full-time employment.
Some of the second group of students didn't make it to walk the stage last week because they had already found jobs before they finished the program.
"To see their growth and where they've gone to ... I'm just so proud," Debbie said with a smile.