Enhancing Employability: Jewel Pierre-Roscelli LITEs Up Job Prospects
“We are so powerful as Indigenous people when we come together,”Jewel Pierre-Roscelli remarks. She is a Dakota woman who has always lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba but Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is where she calls home. She spends her summers there with her grandma and other relatives, and it’s a special place full of special people who inspire her.
Her grandfather worked as a financial advisor and her grandmother worked in the health sector. She loves to involve her grandmother as much as she can, enjoying how powerful it is to share space with her. Their inspiration helped her find her place in an important role, Executive Director for a nonprofit organization called LITE, which stands for Local Investment Toward Employment.
The organization she leads raises money to create funding opportunities for organizations in areas of Winnipeg that have had lower income and higher crime rates, where many Indigenous people and newcomers to Canada live. As Executive Director, she builds partnerships and finds ways to direct funds raised towards creating employment experiences to position people to overcome barriers they face.
Newcomers without references after moving from another country, single parents re-entering the workforce after caring for their children full-time, or unhoused people with no address, they all face barriers that LITE aims to address. “Those are all things that many of us take for granted, that stand in the way of someone finding meaningful employment,” she explains.
“When I was in high school, it was almost drilled into me that it's university or bust.”
While she was raised to believe a lack of education would be a barrier to her own employment, Pierre-Roscelli had a difficult relationship with formal learning. She took a year off after she graduated from high school to work, then tried university twice. She took another couple of years off after finding it wasn’t for her. A program at Red River College changed her mind, Community Development and Community Economic Development. She felt she was too old to go back to school but ultimately, she went for it and it turned out to be the perfect fit.
“Not everyone can afford to spend four years in school and that's okay.”
Her beliefs about education have shifted and she now knows there are ways to succeed outside of the classroom. “If you don't fit into that type of academia, that doesn't mean that you're not going to fit somewhere else. It's about finding what works for you, and what your gift is,” she elaborates. For her, the best choice she made was Red River College’s two-year program.
What she learned got her where she wanted to be, doing this work. She strived for the title of Executive Director, but also needed to learn things like payroll, entering donations, as well as program and partnership development. She initially wanted to go into social work like her aunt, but found the educational path wasn’t a fit for her and that her high level of empathy made that pathway unsustainable emotionally. In her current capacity, she can help people and contribute to experiences with long-term benefits, making the most of her gifts.
Volunteering is something that helped her connect with community and find a place serving it, handing out food during the pandemic, making sandwiches and building connections helping with deliveries. Her advice to youth wanting to do the kind of work she does is “Just get out there and try it.” That’s what she did by lending a hand, later becoming a live-in-house mentor for Indigenous youth coming to Winnipeg for school.
She was there so youth didn’t have to go it alone, and one of the biggest lessons she’s learned is about not trying to do everything on her own, too. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There's always going to be people that are willing to help and you just have to find them and have that strength to ask for help,” she advises, hoping Indigenous youth can learn from the lessons life has taught her.
When she’s going through hard times, she draws on her grandparents and friends for strength. Counselling, therapy and culture have also helped her through difficult times. “I'm starting to get to know and understand our culture and our teachings, just to be able to know that it's there, and then access it when I need it,” she shares. Her love of culture is part of why she’s learning what she can in her role as Executive Director, hoping to move into being a leader in an Indigenous-led organization one day.
Pierre-Roscelli has words of hope for Indigenous youth:
“Keep trying; there's always going to be people cheering for you… It took a long time for me to get to where I’m at. As long as you put your heart into it, and ask for help when you need it… You can't do it alone, you need a community and so support each other, and help each other and just be proud of who you are and where you come from. If you're able to connect with your teachings, connect with some elders, connect with your community, because I think we forgot about how powerful our communities are together…. When I think of the youth and when I think of this future, I see that they’re reclaiming that.”
As a nonprofit leader, she’s fostering community capacity, recognizing the power of Indigenous people when they come together. Jewel Pierre-Roscelli spends her summers in a special place with special people who inspire her, and she’s trying to inspire others from where she is. Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is where she calls home, but she’s made a life in Winnipeg, and it's where she’s working hard to make life better.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.