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 or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).


Volunteers helping patients ease their final days on Earth.

United Way-supported Palliative Manitoba helps people at the end of their journey, and the people who grieve for them.

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

When people near the end of their lives, Irvine Hildebrand helps them knock items off their bucket list.

Hildebrand, 73, has volunteered with Palliative Manitoba since 1997, helping terminally ill people live their final days comfortably, whether in home or in hospital.

Irvine Hildebrand has been volunteering with Palliative Manitoba for nearly 20 years. JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Irvine Hildebrand has been volunteering with Palliative Manitoba for nearly 20 years. JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

He’s been matched with more than 25 people over the years and helped them accomplish things others might consider mundane, such as going for lunch at a food court.

“Another chap I remember, we would go out just about on every visit… we would take off to a shopping centre, St. Vital Centre or Polo Park or somewhere for lunch. His background was that he’d been in sales and he wanted to see what the customers were still doing in the stores. It was as if he’d gone back to work. He just loved it,” Hildebrand remembered.

He told another touching story about a man he took care of who wanted to visit his wife in her personal-care home. She had Alzheimer’s.

“They just sat there together holding hands,” Hildebrand said. “They sat the same way and I swear they never spoke two words that whole afternoon. But going home, he couldn’t stop thanking me for that phenomenal visit he had.”

Helping people fulfil small wishes such as these has also been rewarding for Hildebrand.

He started volunteering with Palliative Manitoba after he retired and was looking for a new purpose.

The sad reality is many people don’t make time for caring for the ailing or elderly anymore, Hildebrand said. So now he has time to lend a hand, he does so regularly.

“That’s the main reason we get involved. Family just doesn’t have the time. It’s not that they don’t want to (care for their relative). In North American society now, the priority is work,” Hildebrand said.

Palliative Manitoba also offers bereavement services, on top of one-to-one care where volunteers are matched with patients to visit.

The organization keeps afloat thanks to donations from United Way Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and fundraising efforts, notably the Memory Tree placed at St. Vital Shopping Centre during the holidays (The Memory Tree is actually a bereavement service rather than a fundraiser. Up to December 24 people can write a message on a beautiful card to place on the tree to acknowledge and remember lost loved ones.)

United Way has provided core funding to Palliative Manitoba since 1992 and, through agencies like this one, hopes to help thousands of more Winnipeggers struggling with unexpected tragedy, disability, or physical and mental-health issues.

Hildebrand will help with the Memory Tree starting next month. He’s also waiting for a new person to start visiting — his last companion died a few weeks ago.

He’s ready to listen and visit again. It’s the best gift he — or anyone — can provide someone in their final days, he said.

If you would to help Palliative Manitoba with a donation to United Way Winnipeg, visit or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).

Republished with permission from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2015.

Stability and safety for Winnipeg’s homeless.

“The decades-long battle to end poverty and homelessness has been a war without end. But now, long-term plans to end homelessness are taking hold in Winnipeg and other Canadian cities, with a focus on providing permanent residences to those who need it most.”

From the Winnipeg Free Press: Hope for the Homeless—Warehousing approach to ending homelessness hasn’t worked, but providing a permanent home might.

The Cost of Canadians Experiencing Homelessness

Ace Burpee’s Most Fascinating Manitobans of 2012

United Way volunteers and agency partners are some of the most fascinating people out there!

A pretty fascinating man himself (not to mention a longtime United Way volunteer, donor and supporter), Ace Burpee has just released his list of the Most Fascinating Manitobans of 2012 in the Winnipeg Free Press, and it includes many United Way volunteers and agency partners. We’re so proud of all of them, and honoured to be able to work with such incredible people that are making our community a better place for everyone!

On this year’s list, we spotted:

93: Chelsea Caldwell: An active human rights champion, Chelsea is current co-chair for the Global College Student Advisory Council working to establish the Winnipeg Chapter of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, and was recently awarded the Sybil Shack Human Rights Youth Award by The Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties. And much more.

Chelsea’s a dedicated volunteer for the United Way of Winnipeg as well – as Vice-Chair of our Youth United Council, she’s helping youth connect with their community!

92: Ginny Witkowski: A tireless and inspiring United Way speaker who has overcome great odds to become one of the greatest assets and most positive people in our city.

We couldn’t agree more! Ginny’s story is a true inspiration to us.

89: Louise Simbandumwe: The founder of Run for Rights and the head of Asset Building Programs at SEED Winnipeg, Louise is a tireless advocate who just recently received the annual Human Rights Commitment Award of Manitoba.

With Louise’s help, the SEED program, funded by United Way, offers supports and resources for individuals and families in low income situations as they work toward financial independence.

13: Ken Opaleke: The heart and soul of West Broadway Youth Outreach. Makes this town a much, much better place.

“Dedicated” only starts to describe Ken’s work as a leader and mentor, helping kids in Winnipeg be all that they can be at agency partner West Broadway Youth Outreach. Kids like Norm McLean, aka Dr. #1.

4: Muuxi Adam: Somali refugee who escaped from the civil war and its horrible aftermath, and since arriving in Winnipeg in 2004, has worked extensively with immigrant and refugee communities. Is currently a Program Coordinator at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, and is a huge asset to our town.

An inspiring person! Muuxi helps newcomers to Winnipeg through agency partner Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba.

Congratulations to everyone on the list – you’re doing incredible things for this city!

See the full list on the Winnipeg Free Press site

CSI students wave a flag for summer learning


Strini Reddy with enthusiastic Community Schools Investigators participants

Strini Reddy with enthusiastic Community Schools Investigators participants

In yesterday’s Winnipeg Free Press, you can find an interesting article by Nick Martin about 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.”

Community Schools Investigators (or CSI – the program was named by the students themselves after they compared their own science experiments to the lab work conducted by characters on the TV show) was launched several years ago when 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.

Reddy spoke about the importance of summer learning activities not long after after United Way first began investing in the CSI initiative in 2008:

“These children often fall further behind over the long summer period because their families cannot provide them with a range of stimulating activities,” he said. “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 Free Press article showcased the result of one of those stimulating activities, a remix of the popular K’naan song Wavin’ Flag. Listen to their remix below:

United Way campaign hits milestone.

Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday February 23, 2012. Reproduced with permission.
By: Staff Writer. Photo: Ruth Bonneville.

Despite personal struggle after a fire destroyed Edward Kennedy’s home in December, the 2011 Winnipeg United Way campaign chairman led a team of volunteers to raise the charity’s largest community investment ever.

Debra & Mary at the Plessis Family Resource Centre.

Debra Merrick (left) and Mary Chiengkou hand out lunches last November at the Plessis Family Resource Centre, which is just one of many programs offered at the centre that is funded through United Way.

The 2011 campaign, which wrapped up Wednesday, raised $19.7 million – $750,000 more than last year.

“Together, we raised an incredible $19.7 million,” Kennedy told more than 700 volunteers, partners, supporters and staff who gathered at the Victoria Inn Wednesday evening to celebrate the achievement.

“(That) money will mean we can do more for more people right here in Winnipeg.”

The money goes toward 100 programs run by partner agencies of the United Way that address the issues of poverty, violence, addiction and crime within the city.

Edward Kennedy is also CEO of The North West Company.