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From hardship to hope: Former refugees honoured for courage, strength and determination

August 2, 2019

Ahmad Salem, RRC Peace Award winnerWherever he goes, Ahmad Raseen Salem carries memories of his homeland, and of the people and places he once knew so well. He misses the scent of jasmine in the air, the sounds of kids playing in the street, even the neighbourhood grouch, a shopkeeper named Ali who had a habit of “screaming on the kids all day long.”

That world was destroyed seven years ago, when his family home was bombed by Syrian government forces, killing nine of Salem’s neighbours, five of whom were children under the age of six.

Now 28, Salem was separated from his family for three years, as he moved first to another Syrian province and then to Turkey, where he found work as an English-Arabic translator and was eventually able to have his parents and two younger sisters join him.

Since arriving in Winnipeg as Mennonite church-sponsored refugees in December 2016, the family is building new memories in their adopted country, and Salem says he’s found a home of sorts at Red River College’s Exchange District Campus, where he hopes to one day teach other newcomers.

A new graduate of RRC’s Youth Recreation Activity Worker program, with plans to return to RRC this fall as a student in the Child and Youth Care program, Salem is a recipient of one of two $1,000 Peace Awards, presented annually to students who came to Canada as refugees or refugee claimants.

Peace Awards honour the “courage, strength and determination of students who were forced to flee their homes and countries under threat of persecution, conflict and violence” and who have “persevered in reaching their educational goals, while overcoming challenges and adapting to a new life in Canada.”

Salem and fellow $1,000 Peace Award recipient Kohplorsay Desjardins, an Educational Assistant program graduate, exemplify those qualities, as does Murhambo Basimike, a Municipal Engineering Technology student who was presented with a one-time bonus Peace Award of $750. Read More →

Culture of Giving at West End Radiators

August 1, 2019

A whiteboard in the meeting room at West End Radiators (WER) outlines the company’s core values; Integrity, Quality Service, Fun, Innovation and Teamwork. According to Wayne Feeleus, Owner and General Manager of WER, the employees who come to work each day embody these values. While they are happy to be there doing their job, they are even happier to contribute to something greater than themselves.

“It’s not just about coming to work everyday to make money, it’s about doing something more,” he said. “We want to be in the community and make a positive difference.”

One of the ways WER makes a difference is by incorporating a line item on their monthly financial report that is allocated to charity. Staff decide together each month where to donate the $1,000, and for the month of February they decided on Red River College.

“We have our first-ever co-op student from Red River’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program this summer and we couldn’t be happier with him,” Feeleus said. “We’re already trying to see if he can come back. This is the beginning of a new relationship for us, and we wanted to donate to thank Red River in their efforts for training the workforce of the future.”

Donations like this help students at RRC achieve success in their chosen careers by providing hands-on learning opportunities in state-of-the-art facilities. Recently, donations like this one helped the College to elevate the training experience for students in its skilled trades programs. The new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre is 104,000 square-foot complex outfitted with cutting-edge equipment and technologies that help students stay ahead of the curve.

“We’re a growing company,” said Feeleus. “We’re always looking for people and if the majority of students and grads at RRC are as impressive as our current co-op student, then that’s a place we’re going to look for new hires.”

Founded in 1960, and family-owned and operated since 1980; West End Radiators is a leader in the industrial radiator business. Over the years, it has grown from what was a ‘small mom and pop shop’ to being Manitoba’s only on-site radiator manufacturer and top of the market in industrial cooling system needs for clients in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Western Ontario.

Feeleus believes that the more you give, the more you get back – both financially, and in the goodness of life. It’s something that he teaches to his employees and that he hopes they pass along to their families.

“Our goal is to teach others to give,” he said. “If I give, I can only do what I can do.  If I teach 25 others to give and they teach their kids and spouses now we have something that can really make a difference.  We want to create a legacy not just a one-time donation.  This world needs more good people with giving hearts.”

Join West End Radiators in helping RRC students become the next generation of leaders in Manitoba’s skilled workforce.

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Samantha’s Story – Community-minded Nursing student earns Social Justice Activist award

June 25, 2019

Paying it forward is a recurring theme in Samantha Eveleigh’s life.

After suffering a stroke at the age of 18, she resolved to become a nurse so she could help others as she was helped during a year of rehabilitation. Now, she’s giving back — with interest.

The third-year Baccalaureate Nursing student is the 2019 recipient of Red River College’s Richard (Asher) Webb Social Justice Activist Memorial Award, in recognition of her work at Agape Table and North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, and her leadership in engaging friends, family and fellow RRC students in volunteer efforts.

Eveleigh, 27, says the award is particularly gratifying in respect to her work on behalf of Agape Table, where she has volunteered her time for the past two years, and for which she organized two food drives last year.

“I put a lot of volunteer work and a lot of effort into helping that vulnerable population, especially with food insecurity, so it really meant a lot to me,” she says.

“Growing up, I experienced food insecurity. My family was not really well off. They struggled a little bit in that aspect and so we actually had to use services like Agape Table to make ends meet, so to give back to my community really makes it come full circle. Now that I’m in that position, being able to give back is so rewarding.”

Agape Table serves subsidized weekday breakfasts and provides low-cost, nutritional grocery items for low-income and homeless clients. During volunteer shifts spent cleaning, assisting with food preparation or serving meals, Eveleigh saw there was a need for more non-perishable food items, so she decided to do something about it.

Last summer, she approached friends and family to help out, and together, they gathered 200 items. Buoyed by that success, she sought advice from RRC Nursing instructor and curriculum coordinator Tracey Fallak about mounting a holiday food drive at the Notre Dame Campus.

With support from Fallak and other instructors, she encouraged 10 more Nursing students to volunteer at Agape Table and to participate in the drive. Last December, they collected 700 items for Agape, double the original goal of 350.  Read More →

HAAS Innovation Lab Now Open at Red River College

June 3, 2019

Together with representatives from the Gene Haas Foundation and Thomas Skinner & Son, Red River College (RRC) proudly opened its new Gene Haas Innovation Lab on May 8, 2019. Outfitted with the most current and cutting-edge equipment from HAAS Automation, the new space will be used by students in programs like Manufacturing CAD, Manufacturing Technology and Precision Metal Manufacturing. It is an integral part of the College’s new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre, which will help train up to an additional 1,000 students every year.

“Today is about more than opening a lab. Thanks to the generous support from the Gene Haas Foundation – with strong advocacy on behalf of Red River from Paul Krainer (President and CEO, Thomas Skinner & Son) and a great relationship with Kathy Looman (Administrator, Gene Haas Foundation) – our students will graduate with the knowledge and training they need to enter their careers as leaders,” said Paul Vogt, President and CEO of RRC.

The lab was made possible through a $500,000 donation from the Gene Haas Foundation in the early stages of planning for the STTC. The gift was integral in moving the project forward.
Close to 100 guests from the manufacturing industry and Red River community attended the event and took part in a tour and demonstration of the new state-of-the-art space.
“The Gene Haas Innovation Lab stands on its own as an excellent example of an opportunity for industry to work with education to further develop manufacturing in Manitoba,” said Krainer.

“This lab is the culmination of more than 20 years of Red River College, Thomas Skinner and Haas Automation working together to provide the means to produce skilled workers that fit the needs of precision part manufacturing today. Gene Haas himself and his company have proven what can be done in manufacturing in the United States or Canada.”

The lab’s equipment includes everything from the VF-2 model, with 3 axis of travel, to the UMC 750 with 5 axis simultaneous machining capability and 3+2 machining. Training on this equipment is critical for students who will be entering an industry that continues to evolve every year.

Jessica Burzminski, a recent graduate from the College’s Manufacturing Technician program, and a three-time recipient of Gene Haas Foundation Student Awards, was on hand to speak about how her experience with hands-on training at the College helped her enter her career with confidence.

“The College having partnerships with industry organizations is so important. Being able to offer scholarships, mentorships and the right equipment to learn with is what makes Red River College the best place to study for all students. It’s important because students get the opportunity to try new things and see what they find fascinating and what they want to pursue in the career goals,” she said.

Thank you again to the Gene Haas Foundation and Thomas Skinner & Son for your generous support of student success at Red River College.

Jude’s Story

May 29, 2019

Jude Payumo is on the road to becoming an Automotive Technician after completing the one-year certificate program at Red River College.

Most of the program is spent in the shop, working on donated cars, engines and motors – as well as learning the basic purpose, construction, operation, and service of component parts and assemblies of vehicles.

“The shop is a good place for me to learn,” he said. “I had tried Computer Science before this but I wasn’t having fun. I like working with my hands and fixing things.”

Jude said receiving a scholarship from the Princess Auto Foundation was instrumental in allowing him to focus on his education and building his skillset.

“It helped me a lot. The scholarship is equal to about a month of full-time work for me, so it saved me a lot of time to study and to do the work I need to do.”

He had the opportunity to shadow a Red Seal Technician on his first work placement and gained a lot of knowledge and motivation for where he could end up in his future career. For his second work placement Jude requested to shadow an entry-level skilled technician to get a closer look at what his job would look like when he enters the workforce.

Outside of the automotive industry, Jude is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces as a reservist for The Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

In 2017, he volunteered to support provincial firefighters in the British Columbia wildfire firefighting operations, which spread over two hectares and evacuated more than 65,000 people.

“It was one of the hardest work I’ve ever done,” said Jude. “It was our job to mop-up the burnt grounds, to look for any hot spots, and extinguish smouldering trees.”

His experiences in life have helped him stay focused on his career goals and education, and he said he felt humbled to be selected for the Princess Auto award.

“I’m so thankful for the award and all it’s helped me be able to do,” he said.

To learn more about how our donors shape the College’s success and inspire students like Jude, please visit us online at and click on the impact of giving.

Trevor’s Story

January 12, 2019

After moving from one foster home to another, Trevor and his brother were placed in the care of a permanent guardian when he was six, but 10 years later, he found himself homeless and living from couch to couch.

“I’ve never really had a stable place to live for a while, and for most of my life, growing up, my parents suffered from addictions and couldn’t really take care of me and my brothers and sisters, so I went back and forth into foster care.”

Trevor Brass cookingTrevor now lives in what he considers to be his first stable home since he was a permanent ward – a transitional home for vulnerable young men. In exchange for volunteerism and a commitment to bettering his life, he has a safe place to sleep at night – allowing him to focus on bettering his future.

The 26-year-old is currently enrolled in a new pilot program, Culinary Skills Indigenous, with the intention of obtaining a career as a chef. For Trevor, having a career means not having to worry where he will sleep at night because he will be able to support himself.

“Cooking is always something I wanted to learn. I’ve mostly stayed away from cooking and will eat things that I can heat up in the microwave or a can of soup on the stove”.

Trevor has been able to learn how to prepare traditional Indigenous meals that have been passed down for generations. “A lot of those traditions weren’t passed down through my family – so I feel proud to be able to carry on these traditions. Things like wild rice, stews with moose meat, venison stew and some other things I’m looking forward to learning”.

Next year he plans to continue his studies at Red River College and take a second year of the Culinary Skills Indigenous program before he sets out on his career path.

Your gift will create a life-changing experience that will inspire, and enable talented students like Trevor reach excellence.

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Olga’s Story

January 12, 2019

Olga was in grade 9 when she dropped out of school to help her mother care for her five siblings.

For many years, Olga worked in retail to provide financial support for her family but had dreams of working with children. After expressing her dream to her husband, John, he offered nothing but support. While she thought she was too old, John’s persistence encouraged Olga to obtain the education she needed. But while she was obtaining her high school equivalency, John was diagnosed with cancer.

Olga Rusnak“He wanted me to finish my school, and that was the hardest thing I could have ever done”. Olga took her schoolwork to the hospital so she could study by her husband’s side as he received chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She went on to earn her Education Assistant certificate from Urban Circle Training Centre Inc. in 2012, but not long after that, John passed away.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do after that, I was just totally lost. But I just kept remembering his words. He said, ‘Keep on going.’ He wanted me to have a future.

Olga then had an opportunity to enrol in the Early Childhood Education program at Red River College, which allowed her to work Monday through Wednesday, while going to RRC on Thursday and Friday. On top of a flexible schedule, she also had a strong new support system. She had instructors and classmates, as well as RRC’s Indigenous Student Support Centre, pick up right where John had left off.

“You’ve got all the support you need (at RRC),” she says. “There are a lot of instructors that really give you the boost, the confidence, the encouragement that you need. They have your back. And that’s what got me going. I’ll always remember them. I don’t mean to sound corny, but I’m just so grateful.”

“We’re in the North End, and I can see some of these parents, how they struggle,” she says. “They’re going to school and their children are coming here and sometimes you can see the stress. I’ve been through it, and I’m right there for them, telling them, ‘I did it, and you can too!’ A lot of people need that confidence.”

The day after graduating from the Early Childhood Education program, Olga visited her husband’s gravesite to tell him the good news. ‘I did it, Hon. I did it.’

With your donation, you can be part of helping students like Olga achieve their dreams with a life-changing educational opportunity.

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Allison’s Story

January 12, 2019

Before coming to Red River College, Allison learned she has multiple learning disabilities and was advised to not take classes with reading, writing or math. She was also told that she would have to choose a different career than the one she had set her heart on.

Instead of taking no for an answer, Allison applied to the Civil Engineering Technology program at RRC to prove to herself and to others that her disabilities don’t define her.

Allison Enns“When I got to Red River I was nervous it would be a similar experience to my time at university, but I was wrong,” she said. “Here, instructors know my name. They say hello in the hallways, they care about my grades, and they make time to answer all my questions – and I had a lot of questions. At Red River the instructors take a personal interest in my success and work with me so I can succeed. Being here feels like I have my own private tutor for every class.”

At RRC, Allison was provided with the supports she needed to succeed and even thrive in the Civil Engineering program. After graduating she decided to grow her skills further and is currently enrolled in the College’s Construction Management program. The hands-on and applied-learning, at the RRC has been something that really works for her.

During Allison’s time at the College, she went on co-operative work placements where she was given the opportunity to play an integral part in the design and construction of RRC’s newest building, the Skilled Trades & Technology Centre.

Allison feels extremely fortunate that the instructors and staff at Red River have provided her with the skills necessary to successfully complete her co-ops, have a role in giving back to RRC and help create a building that will provide similar experiences for future students.

With your donation, you can be part of life-changing educational opportunity for students like Allison.

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Donor Testimonial – Brian Scharfstein

July 9, 2018

Over the past 15 years, Red River College has transformed our Exchange District into a viable, vibrant campus-based community. From across the street I’ve seen first-hand the changes unfold. New restaurants and shops continue to open, more people are looking to downtown as a desirable place to live.

I feel passionate that ‘education is the solution to poverty and integration!’ and the product that RRC delivers to our community is the lifeblood of Manitoba’s future. Our graduates are a commodity that is recognized globally, and I firmly believe supporting RRC is supporting the success of our future generations.

Winnipeg’s downtown can be a thriving center for living and learning. The Exchange is a safe, healthy environment where both students and newcomers can collaborate in living, learning, and socializing. And RRC’s new Innovation Centre will be impetus to that collaboration. The centre will be a place for community members to congregate, to learn and be inspired, and to connect.

I will continue to support and promote the Exchange District Campus through it success, and I’m looking forward to welcoming staff and students – our new neighbours – into the community.

Brian Scharfstein
Campaign Chair, Red River College
President, Canadian Footwear

Donor Testimonial – Ronald Hambley

July 9, 2018

The Winnipeg Construction Association is pleased to offer our unconditional support for the Skilled Trades and Technology Centre. Red River College has always been the ‘go to’ facility in Manitoba offering highly respected technical and trades training. Today this facility is badly in need of an expansion and renovation.

Demand for skilled trades is high and is expected to remain high (but) our ability to move apprentices through school, given the severe lack of space, has the potential to jeopardize this opportunity. This bold and innovative project will provide the skilled trades program the space they need to grow and attract students by offering them the opportunity to learn in a state-of-the-art environment.

Ronald Hambley
President, Winnipeg Construction Association