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Ignite Adult Learning in Regina, Sask. has been transforming lives for 30 years, creating a network of successful alumni and a model for change for at-risk communities.

Two years ago, Dominique Maxie, a young adult in Regina, Saskatchewan, was concerned about her life’s direction. She wasn’t in school, nor was she working.

Today, she works at a job she enjoys and is part of a team that values her contribution as a Client Advisor with RBC Royal Bank.

Maxie’s transformation from then to now was driven by her own ambition, hard work and talent for business. Still, she’ll tell you that the skills she developed at Ignite Adult Learning kick-started her career and changed her life.

Founded in 1990, Ignite takes a business approach to helping its apprentices to develop personal and employment skills. In each 40-week cycle, apprentices from 19 to 30 years of age are paid to attend full-time and learn new skills in areas such as personal finance and business management. Late attendance results in reduced pay. Repeated absenteeism risks dismissal. Ultimately, according to Ignite, 75 per cent of apprentices graduate. From there, 70 per cent of graduates quickly start careers or resume their education.

Looking back, Maxie considers the structure and discipline required of the program to be a key benefit.

As long as you put yourself out there and are willing to learn, it gets so much easier day by day, and then it just feels like home.

Dominique Maxie

“At first it’s a little difficult but once you are participating in things, it gets a lot better,” she says.

Provincial government funding is key to Ignite’s operating budget. Corporate contributions also play a role. This includes Ignite’s partnership with RBC Future Launch, a 10-year $500 million commitment to help Canadian youth prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.

Each Apprentice Lifts Their Family

As Ignite’s Interim Executive Director, Tanya McNeice takes pride in the success of current apprentices and alumni alike. In fact, she’s an Ignite graduate herself.

“Twenty-six years ago, I was a single mom on welfare,” says McNeice. “I was going nowhere and life was tough. The thing that made this place different for me was that it wasn’t just academics.”

We learn real-life things that make sense to us: personal budgeting, how to make a meal plan, how to find resources when you need them.

Tanya McNeice

The apprentice program serves at-risk youth from various backgrounds and cultures, including Indigenous peoples and newcomers to Canada. Many apprentices are considered at risk because of economic or cultural circumstances, addictions, or mental health issues in their families. Conventional education can be a poor match with these young people’s needs and doesn’t always prepare them well for employment or further education. McNeice understands and is passionate about helping Regina youth move from risk to opportunity.

“Different things can happen in our lives, and we can have a hard time wrapping our head around where we fit,” she says. “By giving people an opportunity to figure out how they can succeed for themselves and their family, it gives them a sense of belonging and success. It gives them a chance to flourish.”

Even with the challenges of COVID-19, Ignite Adult Learning continues to help transform lives and create social change, says McNeice. Over the past two months, apprentices have continued working online, and the organization is preparing to open the next apprentice cycle in July 2020 as a blend of both online and in-person learning.

Photo: Isaiah Brittain and Ellis Storm Strongarm doing coursework, pre-COVID-19, at Ignite Adult Learning Centre.

While Ignite Adult Learning has closed its doors until it becomes safe for teachers and apprentices to meet together again, learning is now self-directed from apprentices’ individual homes. These changes aside, McNeice believes Ignite will still continue to transform lives and create social change.

“It goes far beyond just the individual,” she says. “Many of our apprentices are parents. Their successes, they impact their families, their spouses, their children. The ripple effect is huge and it’s a big part of what we do.”

Find out about how RBC supports Youth.