Celebrating YMCA’s Aboriginal Drop-In Programs and Aboriginal Awareness Week in Calgary

By Volunteer Blogger Rita Gore

Morgan Retzer-Bowman is a 23 year old Métis woman who manages the Tuesday night Aboriginal Drop-in at Eau Claire YMCA. Despite not knowing I was coming this week she was gracious and generous with her time. It was easy to see how Morgan might make coming to Eau Claire on a Tuesday night a pretty comfortable place to be.

Tuesday nights from 7-10 pm is set-aside for 13-30 year old Aboriginal youth, it’s free and unstructured. There’s basketball, working out and the pool. Morgan says the “it’s a place to come that’s safe and the environment is healthy.”

Morgan has an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Calgary.  She describes her own efforts while at university, to search out and connect with her culture and meet other natives and Métis. She credits mentoring, the elders, support she received from her mother who is Ojibwa and French, plus the U of C’s, N.A.P.I. program with helping her along this journey of discovery.

Native Ambassador Post-Secondary Initiative (NAPI) is a project designed to provide information on post-secondary education and to provide positive role modeling to Aboriginal youth enrolled in Junior and Senior High and other youth programs.

Morgan says she’s learned a lot too, managing the Drop-In for one and one half years. It has taught her patience, leadership, and that there is a fine line between when to let things be and when to set boundaries .She finds she’s more confident now too.

One thing Morgan would like to see happen though, is to see more young native women take part in the Tuesday night drop-in. Physical activity, for them, whether it’s basketball or working out is equally important she believes; a way to keep healthy and have goals .

Since mentoring and support from others, have been an important part of her success it is easy to see why she’s been so invested in the YMCA Aboriginal programs. She was this year’s recipient of the Bhayana Family Award from the United Way which meant recognition for all her hard work, a plaque and a $1000 award.

Morgan’s obviously a great role-model. At the end of July she’ll move on from Eau Claire YMCA as she’s been accepted into Law School at the University of Victoria.

Comments from the Bench:

It’s always important to get comments from drop-in participants though too. Tuesday night I sat on a bench at the basketball court and talked to a few of the people there.

Jesse told me he’s been there most every Tuesday for the past 3 months .He enjoys basketball and working out. As to why he attends he says “to stay healthy, and it’s a place to come” He’s graduated from Grade 12 and considering a career in the Construction industry. It’s easy to tell he’s relaxed and at home at Eau Claire.

Alice who was accompanied by her 1 month old baby Madison and was there to watch her boyfriend Nathan play basketball. He wore #24 on his jersey and confidently shot hoops as he spun around the basketball court. Alice is proud of his skill and proud of her content and happy baby girl but she likes to work out too when she can.

Daniesha, age 16 and in Grade 10 has been coming to the drop in for 5 weeks. She lives at home with her mom and younger brothers. She laughs as she says she comes to the drop in “get out of the house and away from the rest of the family”

She would like to see lots more girls attend and form an all girl basketball team. Sometimes Daniesha feels shy about getting out on the court when the boys seem so much bigger and aggressive. But while I was there she was dribbling the ball, claiming some space on the floor and shooting at the net.

Daniesha likes that it is a place to work out and that it’s free but wishes her friends would show up too. When she explains that she usually stays right till 10 pm and then takes the c-train and bus to get home you can tell she’s motivated to be there.

Twenty-eight year old Michelle reports that she has been coming to Eau Claire for 11 years; sometimes she brings her 5 year old son too. She enjoys basketball and is happy to talk about the attractive red gym shoes she’s wearing, a present from her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. She points -out the heart shaped basketball on her shoe then asks me to hold her i-phone. 

Everybody there at the Aboriginal drop-in Tuesday night made me feel welcome. They were polite and generous in answering questions. Eau Claire YMCA on a Tuesday night felt comfortable and a good place to be for all of us. The Calgary YM offers many other aboriginal programs too. Please contact Program Manager Shay Whitney, Eau Claire YM for more information or visit Aboriginal programs and services?

I intend to check out the June 22 Family Day Pow-Wow Festival at Shaw Millennium Park. There will be a pow-wow, family friendly events, dancing and youth hoops basketball tournament.

To see all of the events happening Aboriginal Awareness week, June 17-22 go to- www.aawc.ca