Montreal·2022 Black Changemakers

Working to support youth at home and abroad

For as long as she can remember, Frontier College's Mélanie Valcin has been passionate about improving communities by promoting literacy, encouraging educational advancement and empowering young people.

Frontier College's Mélanie Valcin helps others become 'little changemakers'

Mélanie Valcin is a 2022 Black Changemaker. (Cassandra Leslie/Ciel Photo)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

For as long as she can remember, Mélanie Valcin has been passionate about improving communities by empowering young people.

As co-ordinator of international exchange programs at Australia's Monash University early in her career, the Quebec City native saw how students grew over the course of their year abroad — gaining autonomy, openness and cultural sensitivity.

"They were becoming little changemakers," Valcin says.

It was a formative experience, not only for the exchange students but for Valcin, as well.

"It really combined my passion for education and youth development."

Valcin's work has taken her all over the world, from a job with the United Nations Development Fund for Women in Mexico City shortly after completing a graduate degree in international development in Toronto, then to Australia, before returning to Canada 20 years ago.

Since then, she's worked for Frontier College, a non-profit organization that's been promoting literacy in Canada for more than a century.

"The reason why I'm still here and plan to be for many other years is because this organization is really changing lives through the power of literacy, community development and education," she said.

"Literacy changes everything."

Mélanie Valcin has worked in youth and community development all over the world. (Submitted by Arianne Bergeron)

Valcin has seen people who were incarcerated start a trade as soon as they were released, thanks to the literacy skills they had gained in prison. She has seen parents able at last to read bedtime stories to their kids because of the support they had received from Frontier College.

"There are countless examples," she said.

Her time in Nunavik, the Inuit territory of northern Quebec, was particularly memorable. There, Valcin helped design and create literacy and math tutoring programs.

"One group of youth we were working with in Salluit set up a mobile library to bring books to the kids of their community at the beginning of the pandemic," she said. "The school library, which [was] the only one in the village, was closed."

"They also organized online storytelling sessions and all sorts of fun and engaging literacy activities. That was so inspiring to see."

'You can't make change by yourself'

Valcin is the single mother of two teens, who she says are also her greatest inspiration.

She still finds time to continue her advocacy work in other non-profit organizations. She is involved with several nonprofits, including Execo, an organization that sends people to shelters and day centres to run programming for people experiencing homelessness; Pour 3 points, which trains coaches to become strong mentors for underprivileged youth; and Groupe 3737, a business innovation hub where Valcin works to support the Black community.

Valcin says that there is a wealth of knowledge, talent and ideas in the Black community, but it often goes unnoticed. "A lot of [it] is under the radar," she says.

She says she's "very humbled that I've been nominated and selected" as a Black Changemaker. It's an honour, she says, that she shares with her team and collaborators.

"You can't make change by yourself," she said. "I strongly believe that when individuals and communities collaborate, we can create a better world."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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