Gerry Zelinski, a long-time employee of the Cold Lake Native Friendship Centre, celebrated his retirement this past week, and was honoured with a scholarship named in his name in recognition for his work with young people.
The scholarship will provide $1000 to a Cold Lake Off-Campus student that has completed their Grade 12 education who has displayed strong work ethic, leadership qualities, and is enrolled for post-secondary education.
Zelinski has a teaching background, having served as an educator around the Lakeland for 40 years, including a stint as the principal of Elizabeth School before joining the centre in 1999.
“When he was here, he taught kids that were getting the boot from school because he felt like he needed to help them,” said CLNFS executive director Agnes Gendron, a colleague of Zelinski who started at the Centre around the same time. “Even back then ESSO wouldn’t hire anyone without their grade 12 education.”
Around the time Zelinski became involved with the centre there were no off-campus options for struggling youths, and the Cold Lake Museum was undergoing renovations to its Aboriginal section.
As a sitting member of the museum board, Zelinski arranged for the students he was working with to help with the renovations in the hope that the experience would have a positive impact.
“They donated artifacts, and wrote books,” remembers Gendron. “One was about the history of the Dene people in Cold Lake, another was on the use of herbal medicines, and the other was a colouring book for children.”
Zelinski’s efforts led to the creation of a job readiness program which helped provide the skills and education to the students he was working with, which later became Cold Lake’s first legitimate off-campus schooling option.
Cold Lake Outreach School, commonly referred to as Cold Lake Off-Campus, was a direct off-shoot.
Gendron also credited Zelinski with being a key leader in the reconciliation of residential schools and other healing projects, producing another book from stories of survivors.
Zelinski officially retired in March of this year, a decision spurred by the onset of COVID-19 resulted in costs being cut to his job preparation program, though Gendron says he likely would have done so regardless of the virus.
His namesake scholarship will exclusive to Off-Campus students for the foreseeable future.
“So often these kids are left out, or forgotten. Gerry wants there to be a chance for them,” said Gendron.