From Kenya to Fort McMurray: Finding Community at the Y

Jane Njoroge's story

Jane Njoroge's Story

Jane Njoroge sitting in a field of grass

In 2013, Jane Njoroge had made the life-changing decision to move away from her hometown in Kenya, East Africa and migrate to Canada to start a new chapter. Having family already residing in Calgary, she decided that would be a great place to start her journey in a new country and soon found a job at a Calgary clothing store. Just seven months after moving from Kenya, an unexpected encounter with a customer sparked her interest, about an unfamiliar city in northern Alberta.

“The customer told me about a city she was from called Fort McMurray. I did not know anything about the city, but she told me all about the community, and how it’s a great place to work and live.” Jane explained. “We talked for a while, and I was very interested in seeing the city for myself. I asked her if she would be willing to let me stay with her if I moved there, while I get on my feet, and she said yes.”

Three months following the encounter, Jane decided to take the leap of faith and move to Fort McMurray. “I told my sister that I was moving there, and she asked if I was crazy!” Jane laughs. “She said ‘That place is so cold and so remote. Are you sure you want to live there?’” Jane embraced the challenge of moving to a new city with no plan and was determined to find her place in the Wood Buffalo region. But before she left, she was given information that she later learned would change her life.

“A friend of mine from my church in Calgary had heard I was moving to Fort McMurray and told me I needed to find the YMCA as soon as I got there. And to find a woman named Rebecca Achieng, who may be able to help me” Jane said. Already having accommodations provided by the woman she had met back in Calgary; Jane’s next order of business was to find a job and find the YMCA.

When Jane stepped foot into the downtown YMCA Hardin Street location, Rebecca was right at the front desk and connected her to the YMCA’s Employment Link program. “I had never done any job searching before in Canada or heard of websites like Indeed. The Y helped me with all the steps – resume building, job searching, and the applications.” While searching for a job, Rebecca helped Jane become a Y volunteer as a front desk receptionist, in which Jane was awarded for outstanding work at the 2015 YMCA 2015 Volunteer Awards.

Jane was finally hired as a Sales Associate at a local pet store. Three months into the job, Jane got a call from the store’s District Manager, who told her the Manager position was now open, and that Jane should apply. “She said, ‘I think you can do it’ and I told her that I didn’t think I could. I didn’t feel confident enough because I was still new to Canada.”

Unsure of what to do, Jane went back to the YMCA, where she met Karenina Huerta, a consultant with YMCA Employment Link, and told her about the recent job offer. Karenina immediately said “Why not?! I know you can do it. Sit down here” and together, Jane filled out the application form in the computer room and was hired as Store Manager soon after.

“From the moment I came to the YMCA, I felt welcomed, I felt well received. I felt valued. And that’s why I went back. For Karenina to tell me that she believed in me, I had never felt so supported. Because she cared so much, she made me believe that this was something I could do.”

Three years later, shortly after the 2016 Wildfires, Jane felt inspired to pursue a new career. Having already had an education degree from Kenya, she wanted to work towards degree in Social Work. When it came time for her first practicum placement, Jane was adamant that she be placed at the YMCA. “I had a special request. I desperately wanted my placement to be at the YMCA. I wanted to give back and work with the kind of team that helped me get on my feet when I first moved here.” Jane’s request was granted, and she joined the YMCA’s Support for Wellness team, helping the community with relief from the wildfire devastation. Soon after graduation, she would join the Y team full time as a Wellness Worker.

“I don’t even want to imagine where I would have ended up without the Y. The Y provided me with all the tools that enabled me to slowly build success in this community. I had told myself I had three months to find a job, otherwise I would leave, and here I am seven years later, thriving in a community I love. All because the Y invested their time and knowledge in me.”

When reflecting on her journey, Jane is so thankful for the connections she has built through the YMCA. She recently shifted into the Coordinator role with the YMCA’s Foreign Worker Program, where she helps newcomers get connected in Fort McMurray. “I am really grateful for the Y because they have allowed me to give back to the community and help others, while also thriving and growing personally.” Jane said. “I am here because someone gave me information about the YMCA many years ago. I believe when you arm someone with information, you have helped not just them, but also the community. Now I can tell everyone about the Y and help others with the services we provide.”

Having been one of many people whose lives have been impacted by the YMCA, Jane is now a proud Y donor, knowing firsthand what her gift means to the community. "I give to the Y through my time and service, but also through my funds. I give without reservation. You never know how much your dollars will mean to someone in need, and when I give to the Y, I know that I am helping the community thrive and building strong families." Jane added.

"To anyone who is considering giving to the Y, I would say give without holding back."

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to the work the Y does. Every staff member and program is rooted in the belief that everyone deserves the chance to thrive, regardless of who you are, or your background. Jane says the Y’s values are evident in everything we do.

“There is a Maya Angelou quote that sums up my Y story perfectly.” Jane read. “It goes ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”

In closing, Jane explains she will never forget how the YMCA made her feel, from the very moment she stepped foot in the building.

“When you are a newcomer, even a smile can change your day. I felt anxious about being in a new community and new country, and the second I stepped into the Y, I felt settled. I was received just as I was. I have built a connection with the Y that goes beyond feeling like home.” Jane smiled.

“To me, the YMCA is my family. And I am proud to tell my story.”