Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme for 2021—#ChooseToChallenge— encourages everyone to call out gender bias and inequality while also seeking out and celebrating women’s accomplishments.

This celebration and empowerment of women, which uplifts them while they pursue their goals, is an integral component of the Pathways Program.

In order to support young women and girls on their journey to high school graduation, frontline program staff across the country encourage female students and celebrate their victories every step of the way.

Ellen Lee, a Youth Worker at Pathways Pointe-Saint-Charles, sees the celebration of student successes as an essential part of forming strong working relationships with students. Affirmation and encouragement are at the core of her mentorship philosophy. “It’s important for restructuring their perception of themselves and restructuring their way of thinking. The internal narrative that we have running in our head is powerful and if you allow yourself to go down that rabbit hole, it’s a dark place,” says Ellen. “I’m their cheerleader because having just one person believe in you makes a world of difference.”

Someone who can attest to the power of female mentorship is Jenna Giles, a staff member who works directly with youth at Pathways Halifax. Growing up, Jenna had a female teacher who she looked up to as a mentor, a relationship she now recognizes as having had a lasting impact on her life.

Jenna facilitates a healthy living initiative at Pathways Halifax that covers topics like gender, sexuality, and healthy relationships in small group settings and aims to empower young women and girls to advocate for themselves while navigating their personal lives. “In my experience, those smaller groups allow reluctant students to talk more openly about things,” says Jenna. “Seeing students connect with each other and offer advice is my favourite thing—young women and girls supporting each other is amazing, and that happens a lot in these small sessions.”

Programming discussions and mentoring relationships like these create safe spaces and sources of encouragement for young women as they learn and grow.

Growing up, Brenda Lao, a Youth Outreach Worker at Pathways Surrey, didn’t have a mentor to turn to. Her own experiences help her to see the value these safe spaces and healthy adult relationships hold for girls in the Pathways Program.

“Some of the things they share with me are very personal, and sometimes it takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability to share those things, so I’m very thankful for it,” says Brenda. “I feel very honoured to be a part of these young women’s lives.”

The impact of these connections and conversations goes far beyond the individual students who participate in the program. Brenda also sees the impact these relationships have on empowering entire communities. “We’re supporting these students to become engaged adults who want to contribute to society.” says Brenda. “These young women are our future. They’re going to do amazing things.”