A remarkable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been bestowed upon Alicia Sayers.

The 20-year-old Journalism and Contemporary Studies student at Laurier Brantford was nominated and selected to be one of 12 Aboriginal role models by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) this summer. As a result, Sayers will devote the next year to traveling to various First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities across the nation in order to speak to Aboriginal youths.

It’s a role that Sayers seems to have been conditioned for all her life.

Growing up, Sayers, who is of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potowatomi descent, attributes her commitment to her culture to the way her parents raised her.

“My ‘background’ is the forefront for who I am as a person. I am thankful that my parents raised me to be proud of who I am—to be humble and to pursue my goals,” she says. “My culture has influenced me, inspired me, and helped me grow throughout my life.”

It is this pride and devotion to her Aboriginal background that had brought Sayers to the attention of the National Aboriginal Role Model Program (NARMP).

Nominated by previous role models, Sayers and 11 otherrole models have been selected to interact with Aboriginal youths and to promote healthy lifestyles while encouraging these youths to reach their goals by sharing their own personal stories.

Funded by Health Canada, NAHO is an organization which “celebrates the accomplishments of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis youth aged 13 to 30.” Twelve new role models are selected each year based on their innovation, achievements, and leadership.

Sayers was officially announced as one of the twelve role models for the 2009/2010 year on June 20th at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

“It was amazing,” she reveals. “To be looked up to and then having other individuals believe in me is unexplainable.”

The role is significant to Sayers because “everyone needs someone to look up to, whether they are Aboriginal or not.” She also adds that, “This program is important for what it offers to the Aboriginal population. The response and demand for the NARMP is far beyond what I expected.”

“It offers youth someone who is just like them whether they are First Nation, Métis, or Inuit. The role models are from various backgrounds, are various ages, and have accomplished many things throughout their lives. It’s important to have someone to look up to who will hopefully influence behaviours and attitudes of Aboriginal youth. This program makes this available on a nationwide scale.”

For Sayers, who was once inspired by a former role model herself, the qualities she saw within herself include her belief that education is the “seed for success,” as well as her numerous experiences with volunteering and her aforementioned devotion to her culture.

Before becoming a role model for Aboriginal youth, Sayers volunteered for many organizations, such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Turtle Concepts, Canadian Red Cross, and Out of the Cold. This, plus her academic achievements at Laurier, is one of the reasons why Sayers was considered as an ideal role model.

Under her profile on the NARMP website, Sayers is listed as being “ambitious,” “honest,” and “goal-oriented,” which is evident in her future plans to earn a master’s degree in Communication Studies in order to start a career in public relations.

As for the present, Sayers is focused entirely on her current position and she admits to having already seen growth within herself.

“This program not only allows me to meet many individuals, but it will and has already helped me grow as a person. I want to do so much with this opportunity and engaging youth is my main goal,” she says. “I want to encourage them to reach for their goals and work hard for what they want in life.”

Despite this being her main goal, Sayers is also fully aware of her responsibilities as a third-year university student. In order to properly balance her role model duties and her studies, Sayers learned to juggle her workshops and conferences with summer employment and says this balance has already given her a taste of what is to come this school year.

“I am becoming a young adult and I have learned, and am still learning, to manage my commitments and myself,” she explains.

In these first few months of her tenure as a National Aboriginal Role Model, Sayers has made a trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario for the National Association of Friendship Centre’s youth gathering, and while there, she spoke with Lucie Idlout, the National Aboriginal Role Model Spokesperson. She’s also been approached by CTV and other media outlets to do a story on the program and her role in it, and has recently prepared a youth gathering in Gananoque, Ontario which will involve a two-hour workshop with youths 10-18 years old.

On the importance of these youth gatherings and workshops, Sayers says, “One of the best lessons you can learn is to listen. Everyone has a story and if you take time to listen to someone, you can learn things you would never have been able to on your own.”

It is because of this that she is planning on visiting as many different venues and communities as possible whenever she is able and to make the most of the opportunity she’s been given.

“I want to take part in so much and see what I am capable of,” she says. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”