Jacie, Veronica, Brittany, and I gather in Jacie’s cheerful kitchen for our interview. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, and like a good Sunday afternoon, it’s a bit lazy with all of us arriving late and with our slow start to conversations of any substance. Instead of diving right in, we enjoy some snacks. Jacie makes us coffee, and we catch up as friends, talking about yesterday’s Indigenous People’s Day event in East Village.
Before I get into the interview questions I’ve prepared, Jacie takes charge leading a conversation about Brittany’s clothing company. Brittany is launching the company, “Sisters on the Edge,” with the help of Jacie and Veronica. Brittany’s hope with this company is to more widely share the messages of her art so that it’s not just sitting on the walls but something people can see and feel. Jacie has connected Brittany with one of her friends who designs t-shirts. A conversation ensues, which leads to the consensus that this connection seems to make the most sense to ensure the t-shirts and hoodies are of good quality. Then, we circle back to laughing about the name of the company and how one word makes all the difference: Brittany originally wanted to name it “Sisters on Edge” before I suggested adding “the” to make it “Sisters on the Edge.” The old name makes us giggle thinking about a logo with stressed out sisters on it.
After an hour or so, we’re caught up, have taken care of business, and are ready to move into the formal interview. Except that nothing feels that formal when you continue to snack, joke around, and spend time in good company.
Like most in the mentorship program, each of the three women became involved through a personal connection with someone already in the program. Our Mentorship Program Coordinator, Shalome, invited both Veronica and Jacie to mentor. Brittany’s sister, also a young leader in the program, encouraged Brittany to join.
There are common themes in Veronica and Jacie’s stories of why they accepted Shalome’s invitation. Veronica and Jacie share a similar experience of having moved to cities from their reserves as teenagers and for both of them this was a push to now join the mentorship program. “When I first moved to the city, I didn’t have anyone to lean on…if I could make that easier for someone else, I’m sure that would be good,” says Veronica. Jacie describes her move as, “pretty challenging” but adds that being uncomfortable led her to grow. Learning about traditional mentorship and demonstrating to her children through example the importance of volunteering in one’s community were also factors that led Jacie to join our program as a mentor.
Jacie and Veronica were originally asked to mentor Brittany together to accommodate Veronica’s busy schedule. Veronica was eager to give but also a full time student when she joined. As mentorship “pods” are fairly new to our program, I ask them to explain what it’s like. Jacie answers that it “takes the pressure off” to share the responsibility of mentoring with another person, while Brittany says that having two mentors brings, “more perspectives and more connections.” Veronica makes a link between the pod and Indigenous ways of knowing where there wasn’t only one-to-one mentoring but community where “everyone played a role.”
But, of course, getting to this point where they make pod mentorship look easy took time. Jacie comments that there was “a nervousness” at the beginning of her mentorship journey and the fear of the unknown but that with time it has become something great. According to her, there isn’t a “magical formula” to get their pod to where it is, “but there’s magic about it.”
Having had a poor mentoring relationship in a different program, Brittany describes the beginning for her as an exercise in not associating that past experience with her new mentors. She says that at first it was challenging to open up, especially given that she is someone who has been independent out of necessity. To bring forth ideas, to hear suggestions, and generally open up was difficult, but has led Brittany to have more connections and “more things that I can accomplish with [Jacie and Veronica] in my life.” Looking at both of her mentors, she goes on to say, “I can bring a project to both of you and you guys are so willing to come forward and help and have connections towards helping me. It helps that there are no broken promises or promises.” Her mentors seem to agree with this point, stating that as a group they have expectations but are also understanding when life comes up and they have to change their plans.
When I ask them about their greatest success as a pod, Jacie laughs and jokes that it is “food” gesturing to everything on the table. Veronica notes that it is remarkable that only a couple months ago Brittany first brought forth the idea of “Sisters on the Edge” and now it has progressed so much. Veronica shares that it was helpful from the beginning that Brittany had specific things she wanted to work on so that these things could act as their plan. For example, when Brittany told Veronica that she doesn’t go out very much, Veronica says with a laugh that her “number one goal [became] I need to bring her out more. Get her out of the house!”
More than a couple of times, the conversation shifts and we lose track of the question in laughter before one of them asks me, “What was the question again?” In watching the three of them easily joke and interact as friends, my heart is full in knowing that the program has led to this quality of connection. When asked about what challenges they have experienced – I ask because everything seems so rosy in Jacie’s cozy kitchen – they remark that meeting up can be difficult but that program staff have been “the glue” supporting the relationship building.
The mentorship program Veronica describes as “Amazing. [It’s] an opportunity to learn about yourself and how you develop relationships with other people...It’s an opportunity to see someone grow and that’s a beautiful thing.” Brittany appreciates that they all come from different communities so they have varying experiences of what helped them overcome difficulties to bring. “We’re all different, and we’re all able to share our opinions and perspectives with that respect.” Jacie remarks that there is a “good feeling of safety amongst everybody.”
Through their involvement in the program, there have been positive changes, including what Jacie jokes is her highlight in the program – seeing Brittany’s hair colour change every month or so. A key highlight for Brittany was being asked to join the Canada Bridges’ board. And it’s definitely clear that the relationship between Veronica, Jacie and Brittany has strengthened over time.
As Brittany says, “We’re growing a connection while doing this together.”