A group of dedicated individuals and community members have come together to create a unique space for learning and growth. BGC Thompson (Boys and Girls Club of Thompson) offers a safe and supportive environment for children and young adults to learn new skills, work on personal growth, and experience new enriching opportunities. With a focus on personalized learning and life skills, BGC Thompson is changing lives and breaking down barriers to education.
Lianne Maynard, Executive Director of the BGC team, has been instrumental in changing the lives of many staff and participants who have walked through these doors. With a contagious energy and a deep commitment to her work, Maynard has helped create an inclusive and welcoming environment.
One program that sets this organization apart is its partnership with the School District of Mystery Lake to focus on providing a second opportunity for young adults who may have faced significant challenges in classrooms previously. BGC works closely with R.D. Parker Collegiate, the local high school, to provide students with the opportunity to earn credits and graduate with either a high school diploma, or a mature student diploma. The program, Youth Build, offers classes for those aged 18-29, with specific funding that allows students to get paid during their time in class. This eliminates the need for students to work long hours to pay their bills, allowing them to focus on their studies and achieve their goals. At BGC, the focus is on personalized learning that accommodates the needs of each individual. Unlike a typical school setting, where students are often segregated by age and grade level, BGC teaches a wide range of ages in the same room. This helps to build connections between students and creates a tight-knit learning community.
Tamara Katchmar, Manager of Operations at BGC Thompson, explains that many of the students who enter into the Youth Build Program have faced personal barriers which prevented them from graduating high school in the past. "Something has discouraged them from attending school," she says. But at BGC Thompson, they have a second chance to find their passion and thrive as they learn.
Bella-Lena Higgins, Youth Build Manager at BGC, explains that their approach to teaching is about building connections and helping support their students. "Here they're all in one room, all day, building connections that will last a lifetime," she says. This approach allows students to feel supported by staff and an educator which increases their chances of success in the program.
But BGC doesn't stop at academic learning. They also focus on teaching real-world skills that will help students succeed beyond the classroom. Katchmar explains that they want to teach students "beyond the typical school curriculum" and help them with practical skills like paying bills, taxes, and banking.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of BGC is the sense of family that permeates the organization. Katchmar describes it as "always been a family atmosphere" and explains that they want to help students develop in all aspects of their lives.
BGC offers after-school events for children aged 5-12 and late-night programs for teenagers aged 12-17. These programs are ran by Brandi Theriault and her staff, who focus on "fun learning" that engages participants and builds excitement for subjects such as science, math, and nutrition. "I love participating in the children’s activities," she says, "this is a place to experiment and make learning fun!" The After School Program also offers a snack and supper daily, which supports our participants and their families to access healthy food at no cost. “Being able to offer free programming and meals to the participants in our community is something we couldn’t achieve without the support of our sponsors, and provincial government,” explains Maynard. “Thompson Community Foundation, Vale - Manitoba Operations, Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, and many other organizations have been instrumental in our Club’s success” says Maynard.
At late-night events, participants can play pool, and ping-pong, and hear from guest presenters. These events help to create a sense of community and belonging, which is essential for youth who may have felt isolated or excluded at school.
BGC Thompson is looking to expand its capacity to provide programs and services and is currently in the process of fundraising to expand its facilities to better serve the community. The new space will include a new classroom for Youth Build participants, offices and a boardroom; this will allow the organization to turn the current basement into a commercial kitchen. This will provide even more opportunities for students to learn practical skills and gain hands-on experience.
BGC's slogan is "Opportunity Changes Everything," and this sentiment is reflected in every aspect of the organization. By providing a safe and supportive environment for learning and growth, BGC is breaking down barriers and helping students achieve their goals. As Katchmar says, "Every day is a new day, it's always something different. You deal with different personalities, so we don't want to put them all in the same box. We want to complement each one's personal learning style, and I think that makes a difference."
In a world where education is often seen as a one-size-fits-all proposition, BGC Thompson is a shining example of what can happen when we focus on personalized growth and real-world skills. This organization is changing lives and breaking down barriers, one student at a time.
~Matthias J. Johnson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Thompson Citizen. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.