Immigrant brothers thrived with help from United Way-supported drop-in program
Mahmoud Sesay likes to be called Junior, after his dad. He came to Canada from war-torn Sierra Leone with his mother and brothers in 2003, when he was just seven. A year later he learned that his father had been killed by gunfire.
In 2006 Junior was 10 and his brother, Will, was eight. They were playing together in Winnipeg’s West End. The neighbourhood is in the heart of the federal electoral district of Winnipeg Centre — reported this year to have the third-highest child poverty rate in Canada.
They were approached by Jamil Mahmood, executive director of United Way partner agency Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA). Back then Jamil was co-ordinator of SNA’s Building Belonging drop-in program (BB), and he invited Junior and Will to sign up.
“It felt just like a family there. It was just kind of a great place to be,” Junior says.
“We made so many friends, too, even people that we know still today.”
The United Way-supported program offers kids aged six to 12 a nutritious snack, activities and outings, help with homework, and positive mentorship after school and during summer months.
Junior says for him and Will growing up it was the place to be — the place to see friends and avoid trouble.
“It’s a great thing for the community. If it wasn’t there, where would the kids go? It’s just a really safe place to go.”
The brothers also participated in SNA’s sports programs, playing basketball for the Inner City Jr. Wesmen team. Their passion for basketball let them to commute to Charleswood for high school, where they both became provincial high school champs with the Oak Park Raiders.
Today they attend University of Winnipeg, and credit SNA and its programming for helping keep their lives on a positive track.
“We were around people who were great and encouraged us. Without that… we probably would have gone down a different path,” Junior says.
United Way Winnipeg supports 36 agencies that serve children and youth with more than 40 after school and summer programs, 12 leadership/mentorship, and 8 counselling and crisis intervention programs. About 75,000 participated last year.
Help support children and youth in Winnipeg —
donate online at www.UnitedWayWinnipeg.ca/help or call 204-477-UWAY (8929) today.
Originally published by Canstar Community News.