Some people choose a career based on passion, while others are driven by necessity.
For Rebecca Trudeau, it was both.
Trudeau always knew she wanted to help break poverty’s vicious cycle, but it wasn’t until she discovered Red River College’s Community Development/Community Economic Development program that she realized she would be able to pursue her dream job — and, just as importantly, hold down a steady 9-to-5.
“When I was 17, we got evicted,” says Trudeau. “And that’s when my mind changed as to what I wanted to do with my life.”
The West End resident grew up on social assistance. Her mom, Kerry, is schizoaffective, meaning she exhibits traits of both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It made working to support Trudeau and her two sisters impossible for the single mom.
While Trudeau knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others as well as her own, she went ahead with her plan to study history and conflict resolution at university for two years. But with student debt racking up, her fear of not being able to land a steady job straight out of school had her mapping out a different path.
“I chose the Community Development program so I was not only able to help the people that helped me when I was little, but also to learn about my own family and how to get my mom to be a more productive member of society,” she says.
During two intense years at Red River College, Trudeau absorbed a wealth of information from her instructors, whose various backgrounds — in everything from addiction to residential schools — helped her gain an understanding of why people living in poverty are the way they are.
“The homework didn’t feel like homework because I was researching the stuff that I was interested in and presenting on subjects that I was super excited about,” she says.
Despite her mounting loans and her full plate of eight courses per term, Trudeau made volunteering with Winnipeg Harvest and several other local charities a priority during her time at RRC — even winning the Premier’s Volunteer Service Award in 2014 for all of her unpaid hours.
In 2015, Trudeau graduated from Red River College with the highest grades in her class and accomplished her goal of landing a full-time job straight out of college.
“I do about seven different things here,” she says of her role as Youth Programs Associate at Winnipeg Harvest, an organization her own family relied on when she was growing up.
After three years as a Harvest volunteer, she was a shoo-in for the paid gig, which finds her visiting local schools to educate students about Harvest and what they can do to fight hunger and poverty in our city.
She also coordinates the Louis Riel School Division’s Partnership for Change, where she teaches Grade 5 and 6 students about the importance of food and how food is used in different cultures. In addition, she oversees Tools for Schools — an annual school supply drives for low-income kids — and organizes a fundraiser called Empty Bowls in Schools, where students make ceramic bowls to raise money and food for Harvest.
“There’s no typical day at work here,” Trudeau says with a laugh.
One thing that does surface frequently at work is her own personal story, which she shares openly with students. After all, Trudeau is living proof the poverty cycle can be broken.
“Growing up on social assistance, pretty much what they expect is that once you turn 18, you sign up and then you repeat the cycle,” she says. “That was definitely not what I wanted, and I don’t think my mom wanted that for us either because she saw how much we struggled.”
“With her diagnosis, she used to just sit at home and not believe in her own abilities,” Trudeau says. “She’s gained confidence and built relationships here and feels better about herself.
“She wants to make me proud as well … which is why she volunteers so much.”
Even after RRC gave Trudeau the skills she needed to land a solid job in her field, she admits she still gets nervous when the fridge gets lower and keeps a very close watch on her bank account. She fears the worst because every year of her life, there has always been “one to 12 things that went wrong.”
Thankfully, she’s often able to turn her worry into motivation.
“Growing up I thought it was impossible to hold down the 9-to-5,” Trudeau says. “That impacted me. It made me think I had to work 10 times harder than everyone else.”
Learn more about RRC’s Community Development/Community Economic Development program.
— Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)