Youth resource program flies its flag proudly

LGBT community finds safe haven in centre’s support group

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

When Shawn Lagimodiere made his way back to the Rainbow Resource Centre (RRC) this week after a year away, he said it felt as welcoming as ever.

Lagimodiere, 21, gave his old youth counsellor, Dianna Grywinski, a hug before they ventured into the Peer Project for Youth room, a large lounge near the back of the Scott Street building, a few blocks from the heart of Osborne Village.

Shawn Lagimodiere, left, chats with youth councillor Dianna Grywinski, right, at the centre. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Shawn Lagimodiere, left, chats with youth councillor Dianna Grywinski, right, at the centre. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The lounge boasts big comfy couches, an in-suite kitchenette and a flat-screen TV, which Lagimodiere noticed as a new addition right away.

“Just walking in, you see all the (rainbow) flags, you see all the signs — it’s a very welcoming environment. So honestly, I don’t think anything’s really changed other than the inanimate objects,” he joked.

RRC has been supporting the LGBT community in Winnipeg for 41 years, and its Peer Project for Youth program has been sponsored by United Way Winnipeg since 2006.

The program is a support group for LGBT youth and hosts evening sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a field trip every third Saturday of the month.

Youth get together for educational presentations and skill-building classes. They learn practical things such as self-defence and banking, and also have fun with some good old-fashioned movie nights, bowling outings and arts and crafts.

Feeling confused about his sexuality at 16, Lagimodiere did an online search for counselling services and was surprised to find the program.

“I was looking more towards counselling, but as soon as I found something on Google that was with youth, I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting to see that,” he said. “A lot of people who come here are trying to seek help and trying to seek who they are within themselves, like me. Trying to fit in.”

Lagimodiere was in the closet when he attended his first session at 16. After getting hit on by another participant, he realized he wasn’t ready for the new environment just then.

“(The other participants) were so open about whom they were and here I was — I wasn’t really as open as I am now. So it was very overwhelming,” he said.

He came back more confident at 18 and attended Peer Project for Youth faithfully for two years.

He still returns on occasion and said he’s referred friends to the program.

The support Lagimodiere felt from his RRC friends and counsellors helped him battle depression. He also worked up the courage to come out to his family.

“I just kind of went out straight. I was like, ‘Hello Ma, I love you. Um, I’m bisexual,’ ” he remembered. “She was just going on about her day, and she was like, ‘What? Oh, OK. I already knew.’ ”

Grywinski said she’s witnessed many success stories such as Lagimodiere’s at RRC. Still, she would like to see the stigma surrounding the LGBT community stop so support programs such as this are no longer necessary.

“I think it’s therapeutic in itself having this program because it gives folks the support if they’re not sure yet; it gives them that kind of freedom to explore. It offers a space that celebrates your identity and fosters resiliency,” she said.

“In some ways, I kind of hope that (the need for the program would stop). I’d be out of a job,” she added, with a laugh. “But yeah, that would be incredible to live in a world where we just accept who we are and get along and be at peace.”

If you would to help Rainbow Resource Centre with a donation to United Way Winnipeg, visit www.unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/give or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).

REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PRINT EDITION november 7, 2015

SMS Engineering shares their generous spirits.

SMS Engineering’s United Way workplace campaign was an event-filled week.

The Winnipeg-based engineering firm, which shares a birthday with United Way (happy 50th anniversary, SMS!), began their workplace campaign last week by hosting United Way agency speaker Denise Allard.

Denise is a client and volunteer with CNIB, and an advocate for people with disabilities.

“She told a fascinating story of her life. It was really good,” said SMS’s employee campaign chair and engineer-in-training Andrew Schinkel.

The SMS United Way campaign committee, from left, Sheila, Bridget, Andrew, and Jason, with breakfast.

The SMS United Way campaign committee, from left, Sheila, Bridget, Andrew, and Jason, with breakfast.

The week included events and activities like a Ukrainian lunch and putting green and basketball contests, and ended with a full breakfast Friday with bacon, pancakes, fruit and all the fixings.

“SMS has been a big supporter of United Way,” said Sponsored Executive Tamara Borgesen Kaminsky, who was interested to learn that SMS was involved in the design of United Way’s Main Street building.

Sponsored Executives Zoran, Enisty, and Tamara with Ukrainian deliciousness.

United Way Sponsored Executives Zoran, Enisty, and Tamara with Ukrainian deliciousness.

Andrew was pleased with the participation of his co-workers.

“Ultimately it’s to give back to the community. To help others.”

Thank you, SMS, and happy birthday!

Bridget on bacon duty!

Bridget on bacon duty!

Sponsored Executives Evelyn and Curtis helping get breakfast served.

Sponsored Executives Evelyn and Curtis helping get breakfast served.

MPI gives Teen Stop Jeunesse some wheely big help!

The St. Vital drop-in centre is getting a little more mobile, thanks to the good folks at MPI!

The generous donation of a van by Manitoba Public Insurance will make life easier for staff and kids at Teen Stop Jeunesse.

“Usually we have to send two staff with their own vehicles for five to six kids,” said Teen Stop executive director Pat LeBlanc.

Teen Stop executive director Pat LeBlanc, left, gets the keys for a van last Friday from MPI’s Mark Grant, manager, MPI’s Physical Damage Research & Training

Teen Stop executive director Pat LeBlanc, left, gets the keys for a van last Friday from MPI’s Mark Grant, manager, MPI’s Physical Damage Research & Training.

The van ─ a 2015 Dodge Caravan SXT ─ means the United Way-supported St. Vital youth drop-in centre can take that same number of kids with a single vehicle, freeing up a staff member to do other activities with youth.

LeBlanc describes Teen Stop as a “social service centre offering education, recreation, and assistance to those in need,” adding that it serves not only children and youth, but also offers educational programs for adults and parents.

“For some of the kids who didn’t succeed in regular school and were drop-in attendees, they’re coming back here because this is the place they feel comfortable at and they’re succeeding at levels that they didn’t expect.”

LeBlanc is especially proud of two brothers who didn’t graduate from the public school system – who hardly ever attended school. After time they began attending the Teen Stop education programming, and have boasted almost perfect attendance.

“One of them graduated last year from our program, and the other will graduate at the end of January. They both have aspirations of going on to university.”

Teen Stop also offers music programming, arts & crafts, life-skills, computer lab and help with homework.

Thank you, MPI, for your generosity and for caring about our community!

Great-West Life’s volunteer marathon!

About 80 Great-West Life employees show they care as part of the company’s national Day of Caring Project Drive.

Over the past two weeks purple-shirted employees from Great-West Life in Winnipeg gave their time and energy to make Winnipeg better through 10 back-to-back United Way Days of Caring.

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A United Way Day of Caring is a chance for volunteers; usually groups organized through a workplace, to help change lives in Winnipeg by helping community organizations complete short-term projects that need a little extra people power.

Caring, and smiling, at North End Women's Centre Betty Berg House.

Caring, and smiling, at North End Women’s Centre Betty Berg House.

The Days of Caring were part of a national drive by Great-West – a founding partner of United Way of Winnipeg – that saw almost 400 employees helping out with 40 projects in Winnipeg and Montreal, London, Toronto and Regina.

Jan Belanger, Vice-President of Community Relations for Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life, says staff appreciate high-impact volunteer opportunities in their communities.

“Along with building relationships with United Way agencies and the people who benefit from their services, they’re also getting to know their colleagues better, outside of everyday workplace contact.”

The companies organized Days of Caring across Canada to lead off their 2015 United Way workplace fundraising campaigns, Belanger added.

It’s the 3rd year they have done the national blitz of caring, which includes a $500 donation to each agency.

In Winnipeg employees helped out at seven organizations, including several United Way agency partners.

Two separate groups of volunteers spent two days at the Betty Berg House – a house operated by the North End Women’s Centre to help women who have been experiencing homelessness transition their lives to independent living.

Prepping for painting at the Betty Berg House.

Prepping for painting at the Betty Berg House.

The Great-West crews prepared and painted six bedrooms used by women at the house, which had not seen fresh paint in about 10 years.

Making bedrooms bright again.

Making bedrooms bright again.

“It’s amazing, it helps us so much. This house really needed an uplift, and there’s no way I would have had the time to paint the bedrooms,” said house mentor Jenny Foster.

Another Day of Caring winterized a community garden in the West End that has space for growing and playing.

Cleaning up The Kids' Garden

Cleaning up The Kids’ Garden

The Kids’ Garden is maintained by Spence Neighbourhood Association and sits next to the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre, where SNA runs programming for children and youth.

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Children from SNA’s Building Belonging program – an after school program that provides nutritious food, activities, and help with homework to kids aged 6 to 12 – use the garden space to play in and for growing food that they harvest and eat.

Great-West employees also helped at United Way’s Koats for Kids, Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre, Pregnancy and Family Support Services, The WestEnd Commons, and Art City. They also acted in volunteer roles for two Living on the Edge poverty simulations, which help participants gain an understanding of the challenges faced by people living in poverty.

Assembling a closet system for the Fort Garry Women's Resource Centre.

Assembling a closet system for the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre.

Getting Art City ready for a dinosaur party requires prehistoric scenery.

Getting Art City ready for a dinosaur party requires prehistoric scenery.

Keep scrolling to see photos of the Days of Caring teams!

Bringing the warmth at Koats for Kids.

Bringing the warmth at Koats for Kids.

The Koats for Kids crew helped sort and create bundles of mitts, hats, scarves and coats to keep Winnipeg children warm this winter.

The Koats for Kids crew helped sort and create bundles of mitts, hats, scarves and coats to keep Winnipeg children warm this winter.

On the job cleaning up WestEnd Commons resource centre and common areas.

On the job cleaning up WestEnd Commons resource centre and common areas.

Helpers at the Fort Garry Women's Resource Centre, where they installed a closet system and organized items.

Helpers at the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre, where they installed a closet system and organized items.

The painting preppers.

The painting preppers.

The painters.

The painters.

Living on The Edge poverty simulation, first day.

Living on The Edge poverty simulation, first day.

Living on The Edge poverty simulation, second day.

Living on The Edge poverty simulation, second day.

Great-West helpers painted two offices and a kitchen at Pregnancy & Family Support Services.

Great-West helpers painted two offices and a kitchen at Pregnancy & Family Support Services.

Toby Gillies, studio coordinator at Art City, receives a $500 cheque from Great-West volunteers (who also helped build a dinosaur habitat) to help fund their kids' art programs.

Toby Gillies, studio coordinator at Art City, receives a $500 cheque from Great-West volunteers (who also helped build a dinosaur habitat) to help fund kids’ art programs.

Thank you to all the wonderful Great-West Life employees for making Winnipeg better!

Andrea from North End Women's Centre made bannock for both shifts of volunteers at the Betty Berg House!

Andrea from North End Women’s Centre made bannock for both shifts of volunteers at the Betty Berg House!

Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre transformed by epic week-long Day of Caring.

When Nadi Design does a Day of Caring they go big.

Last week the architectural design firm Nadi Design rallied six partner organizations for a Day of Caring which turned into a week and completely transformed the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre (FGWRC) on Ellen Street.

FGWRC's program coordinator Andrea Shnider

FGWRC’s Andrea Shnider outside the centre before the transformation.

Andrea Shnider, program coordinator at FGWRC, was only expecting a coat of paint when she signed on for a United Way Day of Caring.

“I wasn’t expecting a lot, but magic happened. I’m still in awe as I look around,” Andrea said.

“Instead of just paint, Nadi Design said ‘oh yeah, we’re going to do carpeting and landscaping and furniture and a TV.”

FGWRC on Ellen Street provides counselling for children who are healing from trauma. Two child therapists help an average caseload of 35 children who each receive about four months of therapy. Rooms dedicated to art and music therapy help with the process.

Andrea said prior to the Day (week!) of Caring the centre was dim and dark, with furniture falling apart and holes in the walls.

FGWRC reception

The reception/sitting area before the work.

“It was not super child-friendly.”

A Community Engagement Committee at Nadi – made up of interior design intern Alexandra Allen, interior designer Ashley Jull, and landscape architectural intern Danielle Loeb – chose the FGWRC project from a few options United Way gave them.

“We wanted to use our design expertise, and wanted to take it one step further and move to the outside,” said Alex.

FGWRC patio before

The patio was uneven and uninviting.

“We felt we had the ability to change the entire place.”

Alex said the important work done at the FRWRC also appealed to the team.

“It’s a space where children need to feel safe, healthy, valued and empowered. By giving them that space – where they feel good and relaxed – it helps FGWRC in supporting women and children.”

The Nadi team rallied a group of partners in the construction and renovation industries. Barkman Concrete was one of the first on board, pledging materials and labour to refurbish a shoddy-looking patio area with maintenance-free Verano paving stone.

FGWRC patio

The patio dismantling began Tuesday.

“When Danielle from Nadi approached me I was all over it,” said Anthony Militano, a commercial product consultant at Barkman.

Measuring the grade. Barkman removed 50 wheelbarrows of dirt to make room for a new base and paving stones.

Measuring the grade. Barkman removed 50 wheelbarrows of dirt to make room for a new base and paving stones.

“Something as simple as concrete adds an inherent value. It’s something so simple, but it adds beauty,” Anthony said.

FGWRC patio

Setting the new Verona pavers.

The work was hard, but the reward of helping makes it worthwhile.

“It’s rewarding knowing you’ve done some good, and also it brightens up the lives a little of the people using the centre. If you can brighten up someone’s life even in a small way it’s totally worth it,” Anthony said.

A team from Prairie Safety Surfacing applied Rubaroc – a synthetic rubber material they wet-poured onto recycled patio slabs to create a durable no-slip surface outside the centre’s front door.

FGWRC patio

Prairie Safety Surfacing does a wet-pour of a new rubber surface.

Ashley expressed gratitude to Prairie Safety Surfacing owner Dave Jones, who she said is well-known for philanthropy in the community.

Minerva Painting and Decorating did a professional two-coat paint job to most of the centre’s interior, and Future Tint & Stripe applied an opaque film to windows in three rooms to allow privacy during child counselling sessions without closing window drapes.

FGWRC painting

A professional painter from Minerva Painting and Decorating brightens up the centre.

“Counselling is hard for anyone, but for children it’s really scary. So, to come into a dark, kind of not warm area can be overwhelming. Having a space that’s now opened and bright and colourful is really great,” said Andrea.

Levey Industries donated kitchen cabinet resurfacing material, and Shaw Contract Group gave carpet tiles.

FGWRC kitchen

Alex and Ashley apply new cabinet material donated by Levey Industries.

FGWRC carpet

Laying carpet tile.

Ashley said they thought Shaw Contract Group would offer them leftover carpet inventory.

“They literally just said pick anything.”

The tiles they chose were a durable, high-quality commercial grade.

“The idea is you can pull it up and replace it or clean it if it gets dirty or stained.”

Other improvements included new closet drapes – which Alexandra sewed herself – light fixtures, furniture and shelving, toys and a TV.

FGWRC drapes

Alex and Ashley hang new drapes in the music room.

Nadi Design spent about $2,500 for materials and had as many as 12 people working on the job. Their contributing partners donated over $10,000 in materials – not including donated labour.

By Friday the finishing touches were being done, getting the centre ready for child therapy sessions that evening.

FGWRC paint

Some cool designs by Nadi Design!

Andrea was impressed with the results, and the people who made it happen.

FGWRC

The reception/sitting area, transformed.

“I’m blown away by the level of generosity that everyone brought to the table for what turned into a week of caring.”

Some children had already been by to see the transformation, Andrea said.

“Their faces lit up. It was like Christmas morning.”

The news made the Nadi team happy.

“When Andrea said that some of the kids had already seen it that felt really good,” said Ashley.

“To know that they actually felt good in there was really satisfying. It’s great to know that they can come to a safe and warm environment.”

FGWRC patio

Andrea (from left), Alex, Danielle and Ashley enjoy the new patio area.

FGWRC

A neighbourhood cat thinks the new rubberized entrance path is pretty nice.

 

Without YOU, Cassandra might have been another drop out.

A single mom defied the statistics and beat the odds because Winnipeggers like you support safer, healthier neighbourhoods through United Way.

Although she’d already been on her own for two years since her parents split, Cassandra never felt more alone than when, at age 18, she found out she was pregnant.

“All I could think was, ‘I’m not graduated from high school. I’m not going anywhere and I’m about to have a child.'” She turned to Villa Rosa.

Cassandra Granger & her son.

A United Way agency partner, Villa Rosa provides young women who are facing pregnancy on their own (and who, in many cases, have been impacted by violence and addictions) with a safe place to live during and after pregnancy.

There, Cassandra attended school in classrooms administered by the Winnipeg School Division. As well, she learned to budget and save through a United Way partnership that helps Winnipeggers move from poverty to possibility.

On March 18, 2004, Cassandra gave birth to Miguel. “He was just gorgeous.”

The two stayed at Villa Rosa for another six months. Cassandra continued her studies with onsite childcare support from Villa Rosa’s Parent-Child Centre and Toddler Room.

When Miguel was just three months, Cassandra graduated. Since then, she’s received $9,000 in scholarships – money she’s put to good use pursuing a career in nursing. She will graduate in May 2012 and it’s all thanks to Winnipeggers’ generous support for programs like this through United Way.

“Walking into Villa Rosa and not having been judged and just them accepting me for who I am and giving me the tools made me realize the potential I had. I just think Villa Rosa changes lives, and always for the better.”