Back from the Brink

Winnipeg woman gives back after battling loss, abuse and

[Trigger warning: sexual assault]

My name is Cassandra. I am a 42 year old single mother of five. I know what it’s like to live in a single-parent family. I was five when my parents separated. It was devastating. My dad did a pretty good job but there was a lot of hurt and anger and at 13 and I went into CFS care.

I moved around a lot after—a group home, then foster care. That wasn’t a good place, for a number of reasons, but mainly because I was sexually assaulted. I lived with my mother in B.C. for a few years after that but eventually came back to Winnipeg.

I worked. Even when my kids came along I worked three jobs, and with my partner at the time managed to buy a house in the Brooklands/Weston area. That’s where I discovered a Moms’ Morning Out program. I got to meet other moms and share parenting tips, stories, and there were always snacks for the kids, which helped a lot.

Cassandra says she gives because help from United Way agencies saved her life.

Cassandra says she gives because help from United Way agencies saved her life.

We were making ends meet. Everything looked like it would be okay until I got a letter saying that I owed $9,000 in back taxes. I didn’t understand how that could be, but because of the three jobs, not enough taxes were coming off my cheques. That repayment put a huge strain on our finances and the relationship.

Eventually my marriage fell apart. Me and the kids ended up in a Manitoba Housing complex called Gilbert Park. The separation. The instability. It took a toll on all of us. Daily I felt like I was losing it and was constantly on the phone with the Mobile Crisis Unit.

Things began to change when I walked into NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre. Who was there but Michelle, the woman who ran the Moms’ Morning Out program. It was just a huge relief seeing her face again. It was like coming home. But the worst was yet to come for our family.

My daughter was sexually assaulted. It happened right in our own home. A trusted and familiar face. That shook me to the core. The guilt, the personal trauma, it all came flooding over me. I had a complete breakdown.

Thankfully I was able to access counsellors, a therapist and a doctor. And the kids got help too. Slowly, our family began to heal. And NorWest stood with me through it all—coordinating service providers, advocating for me and defending me when I didn’t have the strength.

I’m telling my story because this year’s United Way campaign is coming to a close. NorWest, CEDA, Family Dynamics, Boys and Girls Clubs—I’ve accessed them all and they’re all supported by donations to United Way. In fact, no less than ten of the 100 agencies and programs United Way supports have been part of our lives. They’re all supported by donations from Winnipeggers like you.

Today I’m working again, helping people gain sustainable employment. This year, for the first time, I’ll be earning enough to no longer be considered to be living in poverty.

Even though we’re just getting by, I became a United Way donor through my workplace. Help, made possible by United Way, saved my life and as long as I’m able, they can count on my lifelong support. Without them, and without people like you donating, I don’t think we’d have made it. That’s why I hope you’ll make a pledge today. For some, tomorrow may be too late.

If you would like to help, donate to United Way Winnipeg online at or by calling 204-477-UWAY (8929).

GenNexters mix it up.

GenNext Fall Mixer brings together caring leaders.

National Leasing played host for the GenNext Fall Mixer on Thursday, and about 50 GenNexters heard about the work of United Way and a call to leadership.

“When we step down from what we do it will be your generation and you that take up the mantle,” said Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg CEO Ron Brown.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg CEO Rob Brown talks to GenNexters.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg CEO Rob Brown talks to GenNexters at National Leasing.

Ron spoke of his organization’s important work – how 10 after school sites bring positive mentorship and activities to about 2000 kids.

Without the generosity of Winnipeggers, through United Way, “about half of our organization would shut down,” Ron said.

“We have a great United Way in Winnipeg. It’s really good at what it does.”

GenNexters from National Leasing and other organizations enjoyed food and refreshments and grooved to Jamil the DJ and Mav-One spinning tracks.

GenNexters at Fall Mixer

 Jamil the DJ (right) and Mav-One (left) let Adam Smoluk take the wheel

Jamil the DJ (right) and Mav-One (left) let Adam Smoluk take the wheel.

“It’s a mixer!” said GenNext Council chair Adam Smoluk, a program manager at Film Training Manitoba.

“It’s a chance for us to get together, network, and talk about the things we’ve got planned with United Way and for the city.”

Adam was rubbing shoulders with past council chairs Paul Lacap, a director at Direct Focus, and Gurpreet Brar, director of consulting and deals at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Former United Way GenNext Council chairs Paul Lacap (left) and Gurpreet Brar flank current chair Adam Smoluk.

Former United Way GenNext Council chairs Paul Lacap (left) and Gurpreet Brar flank current chair Adam Smoluk.

“I’m still involved and excited to see more and more people getting involved,” said Paul.

“Every single one of us needs to put our passion forward and participate. There’s about 200,000 in Winnipeg in our age demo, imagine if all those people engaged in something they’re passionate about. What would the city look like after that? It would be amazing.”

National Leasing GenNext Ambassador Committee co-chair Erin Peikoff said the initial year of GenNext at the organization has been a learning experience.

National Leasing's GenNext Ambassador Committee co-chairs Erin Peikoff (left) and Jay Leslie (right) with United Way GenNext manager Dan Robinson.

National Leasing’s GenNext Ambassador Committee co-chairs Erin Peikoff (left) and Jay Leslie (right) with United Way GenNext manager Dan Robinson.

“It’s been eye-opening to get out and see some of the agencies United Way supports, and hear about what they do. It becomes much more personal.”

National Leasing GenNexters did a Day of Caring at West Broadway Youth Outreach, and also ran a collection drive and fundraising BBQ to deliver loads of summer-related items for kids to Spence Neighbourhood Association.

The mixer was the last GenNext event at National Leasing before their 2015 United Way campaign begins.

GenNext mixer

National Leasing’s Employee Campaign Chair for the coming campaign, Brent Cantafio, was impressed with the turnout.

“This is my first exposure to GenNext – my first event. It’s amazing to see how many people – younger people – are involved and enjoying it. I think it helps people grasp the importance of community and how important it is to be involved.”

Learn more about GenNext and how you can get involved here.

GenNext mixer

“It’s not every day you get thanked by someone in song!”

An Amazing Race made for an amazing day for more dozens of Winnipeg kids, thanks to a Day of Caring with the employees of PwC.

PwC Day of Caring

Youth and PwC staff after a race well run

Youth from agency partners the Boys & Girls Club and CSI – Community Schools Investigators, a program designed to help kids in inner-city schools strengthen their math, reading and other education skills over the summer, while having fun – got the chance to head to Kildonan Park for a day full of games and a BBQ. Kids divided up into teams, and raced around the park to different locations staffed by PwC employees, where they had to puzzle their way through activities before racing ahead to the next spot!

The race got employees’ as well as kids’ spirits up. Monday isn’t everyone’s favourite day of the week, but according to Heather Falk of PwC, doing this Day of Caring transformed it into the best day of her week. “It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something to give back and contribute. The company gives us opportunities to volunteer throughout the year, and it as great to be able to take time and be part of it. ”

“The best moment was when they thanked us – they did a full skit. It’s not every day you get thanked by someone in song!”

These Spirit Award winners put the “fun” in fundraising!

All over Winnipeg in 2010, lunchrooms were more lively, boardrooms more boisterous and job sites more jovial for hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees who participated in a United Way workplace campaign.

Far from frivolous though, all the fun will add up to serious change in our community.

Some of the most creative and best-led campaigns were acknowledged with Spirit Awards during United Way’s 2010 Celebration on January 20, 2011 at Canad Inns Polo Park. There, nominees walked the red carpet among more than 650 volunteers, supporters, agency partners and staff.

The North West Company received United Way’s Best in Show award for a Day of Caring event that saw employees work alongside staff and volunteers from Boys and Girls Club and residents of Gilbert Park to build a community garden in the Manitoba housing development.

One of three Best in Show finalists, the North West Company had stiff competition from United Way agency partners Art City and Graffiti Art Gallery, who were nominated for a talent show that featured a special appearance from Kids in the Hall alumni Kevin McDonald, and MTS Allstream who recreated their Exec-Factor event with a live karaoke performance of the Beatles’ “Help.”

Congratulations also to the following 2010 Spirit Award winners:

People First HR Services, who picked up a Canvasser Award in the small workplace category and MTS Allstream for netting a second award in the large workplace category. Both organizations had campaign canvassing teams who went above and beyond to connect with co-workers and raise money for United Way programs and services that create opportunities for all Winnipeggers to feel welcomed, valued, respected and accepted.

People First HR Services Ltd.

People First HR Services Ltd. Jenna Buckley, Michelle Baker, Pamela Habing (presented by Gregg Hanson, 2010 Campaign Chair)

MTS Allstream.

MTS Allstream. Darron Field accepting the award from Gregg Hanson







Sheila Alexander of Dakota Collegiate and Tom Hosfield of Canadian National Railway Company, who both earned an Employee Campaign Chair Award for their dedication to leading successful United Way campaigns in their workplaces.

Shelia Alexander, Dakota Collegiate

Shelia Alexander, Dakota Collegiate.

Tom Hosfield: CN Rail.

Tom Hosfield: CN Rail.






Wellington West Capital, Johnston Group and Cargill Limited, who each picked up a Campaign Chair’s Award (United Way’s highest level of recognition) for consistently embodying the spirit of United Way through involvement, contributions and leadership.

Wellington West Capital Inc.

Wellington West Capital Inc. Dennis Stewner accepting the award from Gregg Hanson

Johnston Group.

Johnston Group. Sharon Anderson, Kailea Shmon, Sam Penner, Ashlee Mann and Briget Waples accept the award from Gregg Hanson.

Cargill Ltd.

Cargill Ltd. Gary Speers, Daniel Schwersensky, and Karen Chow accept the award from Gregg Hanson.

It takes a village

Solving summer learning loss.

Addressing summer learning loss by creating a camp-like academic-focused good time.

An innovative program creating opportunities for inner city youth to succeed in school and life, echoes age old wisdom: it takes a village to raise a child.

Six years ago, two retired educators, Strini Reddy and Karen Botting, took on the case of low graduation rates in Winnipeg’s inner city. They set out to solve the issue of summer learning loss, the tendency for children to lose literacy and numeracy skills during the break.

These children often fall further behind over the long summer period because their families cannot provide them with a range of stimulating activities,” says Reddy.

“Program fees, location and transportation all serve as powerful barriers. Reading abilities and math skills suffer in particular, widening the gap between them and their peers.”

The duo developed a framework for the Summer Learning Enrichment Program. The goal was not only to create learning opportunities for inner-city kids, but to do so in a fun and engaging way.

“We didn’t want children to feel like they were going back to school in the summer,” says Reddy. “We wanted to do something in a camp-like environment but at the same time make no apologies for the fact that we were going to address the issue of academics.”

Launched in 2005, the program runs daily for five weeks during July and August.

Children start with a healthy breakfast followed by two hours of math and science activities. After lunch (and recess) students participate in sports, arts, community walks, and field trips which have included visits to the Manitoba Museum, Children’s Museum, and University of Winnipeg science labs.

Children are encouraged to find out what’s in their community,” says Reddy. “It’s important for the kids to see the community as a positive place.”

Exploring the neighbourhood and conducting experiments, the students likened themselves to the characters on the popular television show CSI. They nicknamed the program in its honour and changed the acronym to Community Schools Investigators. The name stuck.

As much as the program is structured for children, Reddy says parental involvement has been an important element in the program’s success. Staff actively build a rapport with parents and invite them to family literacy events.

They’re also invited to a free session for advice on investing the $400 Bright Futures bursary students receive if they complete the program with 70% participation. Last year nearly 340 children qualified and it’s expected the number will increase in 2010. “We’re not only able to build the assets of the parents in financial matters, but strengthen the parents’ commitment to their children’s long-term education,” says Reddy.

The assets aren’t just financial. Parents report that kids are reading at home. Language and math tests show, with few exceptions, no evidence of summer learning loss, some kids actually improving. And when they return to school in September, teachers say CSI kids are more focused and ready to learn.

Since the program’s launch, the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, a United Way agency partner with a mandate to incubate new initiatives, has provided financial oversight and administrative support. It’s given Reddy and Botting time to build support and find a permanent home.

“We bided our time and that worked wonderfully because in the meantime United Way came on board as well as private donors.”

Today the program represents a growing partnership between government, schools, universities, community agencies, residents and parents.

“Anybody we’ve sat down with sees how this fits in the total plan of advancing the agenda of getting our children a good education.”

It’s a holistic model of education which echoes the old adage: it takes a village to raise a child.

“What we’re trying to do here is create the kind of village that is capable of raising the child. We create partnerships and links. We make sure we’re working in collaboration with other agencies and programs.”

Agencies like Boys & Girls Clubs, with support from United Way, provide a safe, supportive place where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life. Seeing as clubs were already located in some CSI schools, Reddy says it was natural for them to organize recreation activities for the kids.

That relationship will grow this year. Boys & Girls Clubs has become a permanent home for CSI and will oversee its expansion to two new sites, and a total capacity of 600 children.

Concluding his two-year term as president of the youth-serving organization, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Reddy.

“While this is a significant addition to our work, the goals of the CSI program fit very well with the mandate of the Boys & Girls Club. Without the Social Planning Council and United Way we’d never have got this program to where it is. And now we are doubly fortunate because we have an agency that will maintain that same high level of service for these children and families.”

2010 YLIA Scholarship recipients announced!

With so many young leaders in Winnipeg, United Way’s Youth Relations Council has awarded four recipients with the Youth Leaders in Action Scholarship each year since 2007. The Council is happy to announce the 2010 recipients.

Hope Akello has been involved with the Victor Mager Boys & Girls Club since she was 6 years old. At 14, Hope became a volunteer at the centre because she wants to ensure the next generation has the same opportunities she had as a child. Hope is also a representative for the agency’s Youth Council.

Samantha Buzza began volunteering at the Elmwood Kildonan YMCA-YWCA 5 years ago. She has recently been hired into a staff position, but continues to volunteer in various youth programs. Samantha plans to become a teacher, believing this will allow her to continue to give back to the community.

Tripti Prasad has been a member of Girl Guides for many years, stepping into the role of a Junior Leader 2 and a half years ago. In this role, Tripti is developing leadership skills in other young females while supporting the importance of community leadership.

Stephen Klatt has held a number of positions at the West Portage and Downtown YMCA-YWCA over the past 4 years. Through his employment and volunteer commitments, Stephen hopes to foster others to become successful students, athletes and leaders.

This year’s recipients have demonstrated their leadership and commitment to the city by volunteering, participating and working at various United Way agency partners. Congratulations to Hope, Samantha, Tripti and Stephen! Your contributions are so valuable.

To learn more about the programs these young leaders are involved with, click on the links below:

Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg – Victor Mager
Elmwood-Kildonan YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg
Girl Guides of Canada
West Portage YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg

For more information about the Youth Leaders in Action scholarship, click here. Applications for the 2011 awards will be available in the fall.