Back from the Brink

Winnipeg woman gives back after battling loss, abuse and
poverty

[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 unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/help or by calling 204-477-UWAY (8929).

Children are at the heart of a bright future for Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Boldness Project is working alongside North End families to improve outcomes for kids in the Point Douglas neighbourhood.

“If we focus on wellness from the time a baby is conceived, through the support of the family, through getting ready for school, through the school system and on to graduation, and then create meaningful work or meaningful opportunities for postsecondary, this neighbourhood could change in a very short period of time. A very short period of time.”

—Darlene Klyne, CEDA Pathways to Education, a United Way agency partner.