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Group of people standing around in what appears to be a greenhouse. They have masks on and are gathered around plants in raised beds.

Student group, Penta-Connected, worked with the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Collaborative to improve access to healthier foods.

President’s Student Leadership Program serves up community programming during pandemic

Participants tackle social issues while working with new COVID-19 restrictions.

October 6, 2020 — 

In June 2020, just months after COVID-19 began, 22 students were welcomed into the second cohort of the President’s Student Leadership Program (PSLP). Three months later, equipped with a collection of new leadership insights from the early stages of the program, participants completed their leadership service projects.
Placed into teams, the students were assigned to focus on a social issue of their choice and serve an existing social organization in a way that provides value and would not be achieved otherwise. The project required the students to find an organization to work with, discuss their needs, and design and implement an ‘on the ground’ service project. Each of the five teams was able to execute their projects in the summer timeframe. They presented their outcomes and learnings in a special virtual session of the PLSP on September 18.

“The students have gone above and beyond to show leadership with the community organizations they served,” said Dr. Suzanne Gagnon, Canada Life Chair in Leadership Education and director of the James W. Burns Leadership Institute, home of the PSLP. “I am especially pleased that they’ve been able to respond to needs that are more acute because of the COVID pandemic, while also meeting the challenges of working together in this context.”  

PSLP participants are selected from UM and other Manitoba postsecondary institutions, and from across disciplines and backgrounds to participate in in this unique-in-Canada development program for future leaders.

Participant Jo Ann Pinera’s group, The Neighbourhood Project, partnered with YMCA Winnipeg. With support from Rising Youth, her team was able to supplement YMCA programming by creating workshops, facilitating safe spaces that allowed youth to be comfortable in expressing themselves during Covid.  

“The YMCA had a limited number of staff this year, so it was meaningful and fun for the kids to see mentors and guest speakers coming in with creative activities,” said Pinera, a student in the University of Winnipeg’s undergraduate business program. “The program we created (The Neighbourhood Project) was really all about encouraging safe and healthy habits, such as exploring our neighborhood beyond our houses and immediate surroundings, learning about history and geography, and being observant [..] of our world that exists around us,” Pinera noted.

When UM landscape architecture student Naomi Ratte’s team, Penta-Connected, met to brainstorm ideas for their project, there were two major areas that interested the team most: food sovereignty and serving Indigenous communities.

“In the end – we believe that our process through working with the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Collaborative was a great example of reconciliation in action. We were able to commit to deconstructing our ideas of what we perceived a project with an Indigenous community in Canada would look like,” said Ratte. “This allowed us to be open to a different process than what we were used to. It enabled us to learn much more than we could have ever anticipated and further helped us develop our personal leadership skills.”


A man wearing a cap, glasses, and a mask works on an art project made of out of different plastics like plastic bags.

Artist Zachary Poitras helped the team, providing insight into both art and the needs of children in foster care.

Working with Siloam Mission, the Safely Reconnecting group aimed to help youth-at-risk connect with the community while adhering to Manitoba Health recommendations. Youth attended a workshop that guided them through building an art installation out of recyclable materials. The PSLP team created the workshop to serve as a creative outlet, a safe means of socialization with peers, and an introduction to accessible supports for the youth. One highlight for the group was working with Indigenous artist Zachary Poitras who helped the team with his artistic knowledge, while providing insight on the foster care system and the needs of youth exiting care.

A young tree just freshly planted, with new mud surrounding the trunk.

Gardeners of the Galaxy


Working with the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-op (SSOCC), the ‘Gardeners of the Galaxy’ team developed a range of learning resources to assist the organization and its stakeholders to teach practical tools for the garden and food sustainability.  The team also connected with SSCOC to help maintain the gardens, promote community participation, and build helpful gardening resources.


Group of people walk through outdoor greenhouse.


Through the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Collaborative (NMFCCC), this team partnered with Peguis First Nation and Misipawistik Cree Nation to help improve access to healthy foods. In Peguis First Nation, the team assisted with research tasks related to NMFCCC’s involvement with the Peguis Agricultural Project. Teammates helped with root cellar research as well as research for a future greenhouse. With Misipawistik Cree Nation, the team prepared grant applications, research related to equipment quotes, consulted neighbouring communities regarding similar projects, and developed a Country Foods Program brochure and poster.


This PSLP team worked with Winnipeg Harvest and schools to organize and implement the extension of breakfast programs throughout the summer months, serving children living with the reality of poverty or low income in Winnipeg. . . The team worked with four different sites in the city to arrange logistics and planning details, and handed out over 7,000 meal kits to children and their families.


Looking down at a six different kids paintings on white paper. The paintings are laying on the cement.

The Neighbourhood Project. Photo credit: Jo Ann Pinera.

The Neighborhood Project partnered with the Winnipeg YMCA with the goal of helping to replace cancelled field trips due to Covid-19 while incorporating the outdoors (exploring the neighbourhood) and Indigenous teachings (inviting community experts to speak with the children). They held three workshops at each Winnipeg YMCA location for children ages six to twelve years old, leaving an impact on the lives over 70+ attendees. Unexpectedly, the workshops helped participants prepare for the upcoming changes to the school year due to COVID-19. In addition to gaining insights about the history and geography of their own neighbourhoods, children learned how to wear a mask, bring their own supplies, and keep the appropriate distance from others.

Thinking about applying or know someone who should?  Visit the President’s Student Leadership Program online.

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