Michael Champagne (aka “the North End MC”) is one of the founders of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO) and a busy community organizer in Winnipeg’s North End. He’s a passionate advocate and mentor for Indigenous youth and a force for positive change in our community.
Mr. Champagne was part of the Youth Vital Signs response grants committee and helped organize last year’s YVS mayoral forum. He chatted with Working Together at Thunderbird House, just one of the causes to which he volunteers his time.
Working Together: Why do you do what you do?
Michael Champagne: I’ve lived in the North End my whole life and I worked at community-based organizations from 2005 to 2009.
In building relationships over that period with youth, I realized young people need relationship permanence and that the average turnover of staff in Winnipeg’s inner city [agencies] is about one year. And so that regularly left the youth asking themselves “What did I do wrong?” when it was really [lack of] funding that led to that person leaving.
AYO is a collaborative response from North End youth under 25 (many of us are now older), and we are committed to helping one another be successful on a voluntary basis. So, regardless of funding, we could continue to build on the success we’ve achieved.
WT: What keeps you going?
MC: I see increased participation from young people – Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I see more participants of programs move into management and director type roles. The other thing that keeps me going is the potential of young people.
WT: What does the Youth Vital Signs report mean to AYO?
MC: It measures areas that are very relevant to AYO’s mission. Its format is accessible – that is central. A document like this enables members of AYO to walk into a board meeting or a staff meeting and provide tangible evidence that supports the work we would like to undertake in the community. And it echoes our understanding of where the gaps are in our community.
WT: What did it mean to you as a leader to be part of the Youth Vital Signs response team?
MC: It made me and the AYO team feel respected by a large institution. To this day we are still unincorporated with no legal entity attached to us. So, to be treated with respect on par with these large coalitions like YAA [Youth Agencies Alliance], gave us confidence and context for what our role is with Indigenous youth.
WT: What was your favourite aspect of the YVS grant process?
MC: The process as a whole stands out to me because inviting your community members to make a decision of that magnitude was a responsibility-based opportunity. In the general Indigenous community, the concept of reciprocity is very important. We were given an opportunity to participate and build our system literacy and, in exchange, we helped guide the allocation of dollars.
We feel like there’s a big connection in values with The Winnipeg Foundation and Winnipeg’s urban Indigenous population.