Youth Day of Caring 2016

Winnipeg youth show they care at 15 agencies.

More than 100 Winnipeg high school students gathered at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre at Win Gardner Place and boarded busses for the annual United Way Youth Day of Caring.

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The students gave their time and sweat equity to make improvements at 15 different agencies around Winnipeg on Friday.

Before they departed they heard about the work of their host, Ma Mawi, from Lorenda Nepinak, a Home Visitor with the Families First Program. She had some parting words of wisdom for the young volunteers.

“Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.”

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At the North End Women’s Centre several students wielded bags and pickers to clean garbage from the centres yards.

The United Way agency partner provides a multitude of services including counselling, drop-in, addictions recovery and transitional housing.

North End Women's Centre's Marissa Rykiss talks to youth before they start work.

North End Women’s Centre’s Marissa Rykiss talks to youth before they start work.

“Thank you so much, we really appreciate it,” Marissa Rykiss, a parent-child coordinator at the centre told the youth before they started cleaning up the garden and yards around their buildings.

Cleaning up around the North End Women's Centre

Cleaning up around the North End Women’s Centre

“It’s really inspiring to see the youth doing it, we all want a more beautiful Winnipeg,” she said.

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At Dufferin School Community Garden students placed and filled new raised garden beds and prepared existing ones for planting. The garden is used by newcomers that have been helped through Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM).

Jim Beckta, Greening Coordinator with IRCOM, said the students are helping meet the demand for more gardening space for newcomers.

“It’s wonderful. It’s very helpful,” said Jim.

Student EJ had some trouble hoisting a full wheelbarrow into a new garden bed, but thankfully was not hurt.

Youth helped prepare garden beds for newcomers at the Dufferin School Community Garden

Youth helped prepare garden beds for newcomers at the Dufferin School Community Garden

“I feel glad. I feel happy. It’s for them,” EJ said of his day volunteering.

At Graffiti Art Programming students from Elmwood High School painted the outside walls black to get them ready for more artwork by youth involved in the agency’s art programs.

“I feel honoured that I get to do this, I appreciate that my teacher asked me to.” said Denise Cal Ortiz.

Resetting a canvas on Graffiti Art Programming's building.

Resetting a canvas on Graffiti Art Programming’s building.

Jessie Canard, a summer administrative assistant at Graffiti Art, said she hopes more youth learn about their free art programming.

“It’s really awesome to have these youth come down here as a lot of them haven’t been here before. And it’s awesome to have the help.”

Corey Mohr, Community Development Coordinator at NorWest Co-op Community Health’s Gilbert Park Resource Centre, said the students from Gray Academy of Jewish Education who spent two hours sweating in one of their community gardens were thanked by some area residents.

Teacher Marcelo Mohadeb (left) and his students from Gray Academy of Jewish Education with NorWest Community Development Coordinator Corey Mohr.

Teacher Marcelo Mohadeb (left) and his students from Gray Academy of Jewish Education with NorWest Community Development Coordinator Corey Mohr.

“That’s powerful. That’s what I like to see, that people are appreciative.”

Student Ilan Jacobowitz said people like himself are often unfamiliar with communities like Gilbert Park – Manitoba’s largest social housing complex with 1,100 residents.

“It’s nice to see organizations like United Way and resource centres like (NorWest) helping out in communities,” said Ilan, who believes involving youth in the community plants a seed which will grow into more participation and volunteering in the future.

Fellow student Philip Roshkevsky seemed to confirm Ilan’s hypothesis, saying he was proud to be helping and that it makes him “want to do more.”

After a morning helping at agencies the students talked about what community means to them.

They re-fueled with lunch generously donated by Santa Lucia Pizza before heading out again for walking tours of Winnipeg’s North End community led by members of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO).

Youth United Day of Caring volunteers and AYO members outside Ma Mawi at Win Gardner Place.

Youth United Day of Caring volunteers and AYO members outside Ma Mawi at Win Gardner Place.

Look for photos of the day on social media under hashtags #ydoc2016 and #YouthUnitedWpg and learn more about Youth United online.

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Investing in youth-advocacy groups

YAA youth council opens door for 36 youth from 18 agencies to inspire change, break down ‘barriers and stereotypes.’

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

For 20 years, the Youth Agencies Alliance (YAA) has advocated on behalf of children and teens. Now they’re letting the youth speak for themselves.

Earlier in October, a new youth council was established at YAA, boasting two recruits from each of the alliance’s 18 member organizations. Thirty-six teens aged 14 to 18 will meet four times per year to discuss how they can improve their communities.

Since their representative organizations span several neighbourhoods, YAA director Karen Ferris hopes the council will forge friendships across the city.

“Because we’re bringing kids from different agencies together, that will hopefully foster some relationship-building as well, and ideally break down some neighbourhood barriers and stereotypes,” Ferris said.

Dakota Woitowicz (left) a Youth Council member with the Youth Alliance Agency poses with Karen Ferris, YAA Director. PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dakota Woitowicz (left) a Youth Council member with the Youth Alliance Agency poses with Karen Ferris, YAA Director. PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dakota Woitowicz, 18, attended the first YAA youth-council meeting in October.

She represents the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, which also has a youth council that has organized North End neighbourhood cleanups and community dinners, among other activities.

Volunteering at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata helped Woitowicz land a part-time job at a nearby drop-in centre. It’s work she finds rewarding.

“Especially when the little kids start seeing (the work the youth council does) and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to copy them.’ It’s great,” she said.

Discussions at the first YAA youth-council meeting mainly revolved around setting goals to stop homelessness and to raise awareness about the LGBT community, Woitowicz said.

“We talked about what we want to see in Winnipeg that the youth can do and what Winnipeg can offer us as we offer them (help),” she said.

United Way Winnipeg provides core funding to keep YAA and its new council afloat, including annual allocations for camp programming and summer art shows.

The charity invests in 36 youth-related agencies in the city and serves more than 75,000 young people.

YAA also helps tens of thousands of youth and could help even more, Ferris said.

“Our goal is to strengthen and enhance the capacity of (youth) agencies… part of fulfilling our mandate is to make sure that we’re listening to youth and making sure that we’re meeting their needs however we can,” she said. “So having a direct outlet for that now (with the youth council) will hopefully make that process a lot smoother and allow for a lot more direct interaction with the youth.”

Woitowicz said she’s excited to make new friends at the YAA youth council and keep busy doing fulfilling work.

Without youth councils like Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata’s and YAA’s, she’s not sure what she’d be up to in her free time.

“I honestly wouldn’t know. They gave me so many opportunities already. There are so many people I’ve met. It’s amazing,” Woitowicz said.

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

REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PRINT EDITION OCTOBER 31, 2015.

Giving time to non-profit helps woman grow

Every day Ma Mawi “goes above and beyond” to strengthen community.

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

Paying it forward is one of the reasons Nicole Mercer volunteers at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre’s community kitchen on McGregor Street.

She also wants to set a good example for the young ones in her life, including her three children, three stepchildren and four grandchildren.

 “I like just showing my kids that volunteering in your community is a really, really important part of growing. My self-esteem and everything like that just feels really good,” Mercer said.

Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata — which translates to “we all work together to help one another” from Ojibwa — helped Mercer’s family find their footing multiple times.

Nicole Mercer shares a laugh with fellow volunteers in the community kitchen at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre on McGregor Street. JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nicole Mercer shares a laugh with fellow volunteers in the community kitchen at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre on McGregor Street. JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

In 2005, when two of her children were taken into Children and Family Services’ care, Ma Mawi staff helped liaise with the government and the family to get them back after five months.

Ma Mawi also helped Mercer find housing, kick addictions and re-enrol in school to get her high school diploma, which she plans to finish next year.

When her five-year-old son died in 2010 after being struck by a car, Ma Mawi took care of the funeral arrangements. It still pitches in for flowers at his vigil every year, Mercer said.

“From there, we started coming around more often and my husband actually ended up working for (Ma Mawi). He got a job (doing building maintenance), which got me volunteering at this site,” she said.

While her husband moved on to another job, Mercer stuck around, volunteering four evenings per week.

She helps shop for the community kitchen and prepares meals for the youth drop-in program, which runs from 3:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

“We get $50 to feed anywhere from 30 to 100 kids. So you cook for 100, basically, so that they can have some seconds (if there are any),” Mercer said. “It’s supposed to be a snack, but we’ve managed to make it so that we can stretch the budget and actually give them a supper. We’ve learned how to make things that really go far.”

Perogies, kubasa and stir-fry are some of the perennial food favourites, she said.

Ma Mawi is the largest indigenous-led non-profit in the city, offering 50 programs at 11 sites and employing more than 200 staff and volunteers. United Way Winnipeg funds several of the programs at Ma Mawi, including the volunteer program Mercer takes part in.

Since she began volunteering regularly in 2012, Mercer said she’s felt herself grow as a person, while watching so many young people grow up around her.

“It just gives you a really, really good sense of community, especially working with the youth and just being able to see them grow,” she said. “(Ma Mawi) is really amazing and such a huge community support. Every single day, they go above and beyond what they have to do for people.”

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

REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PRINT EDITION DECEMBER 19, 2015.