On the right path
How a place to belong gave a young Winnipegger a way to thrive.
When Dale was 11, he had an unusual item at the top of his Christmas list. He didn’t ask for the latest gadget or brand-name shoes . . . All he wanted were bus tickets.
For years, Dale looked forward to his after-school routine of walking with his siblings to one of his favourite places: Rossbrook House, a donor-supported drop-in centre for children and youth located in Winnipeg’s inner city.*
“It’s where I feel I belong,” said Dale, a Metis youth who’s been a Rossbrook House regular since he was 9. “It’s like a second home. I love this place.”
“This is my place. This is where I want to be.”
Initially, Dale was drawn in by the friendliness of the staff, the fun outings, and the tasty meals (especially the sloppy Joes). He soon joined the agency’s after-school program to hone his academic abilities. Later, he developed leadership and life skills through the Rotary Leadership Circle, a six-week summer program for youth ages 10-14.
Then, Dale received some mixed news. His family was moving to a new neighbourhood, much further from the drop-in centre.
“My family was stuck at a shelter, so I was excited to move out because I did not like it there,” Dale explained.
But he also felt terribly disappointed. His new home was much too far to walk to Rossbrook House after school anymore.
One of the program staff, Sheila, knew just how much the drop-in centre meant to Dale and his family. And, as one of the very first participants at Rossbrook House decades ago, she also had first-hand experience of the agency’s life-changing impact.
Sheila knew she had to do something. With the help of United Way Winnipeg donors, she coordinated bus fare for Dale and his siblings so they could keep regularly coming to Rossbrook House.
“So many of our kids have to move away because of housing, but they don’t want to lose the connection,” she explained, emphasizing how many of their youth participants face enormous challenges at home and in life.
These devastating realities are exactly why Sheila believes it’s so important for kids to always have a safe place to go. Being able to learn in a supportive environment and always have someone they can talk to is crucial—especially during the stress of the pandemic.
“It’s so hard for kids right now,” she said. “We want to help them find the right path.”
Only half of kids from Winnipeg’s poorest neighbourhoods enter school ready to learn—and up to 40% never end up graduating.
A dream come true
Today, as an ambitious 13-year-old, Dale has big plans for his future.
Eager to gain work experience, Dale transitioned from program participant to junior staff member at Rossbrook House a few months ago. It’s something he’s dreamt about for years.
“I still remember my first shift—it was August 2,” he laughed. “When you love a place that much, you want to be there as much as you can.”
Starting his first job required some paperwork, such as getting a birth certificate and setting up a bank account. Fortunately, Sheila was there to help him every step of the way.
“Dale’s always had a steady dream. We want to try to help him achieve it and give him the support he needs—just like every kid who comes here,” said Sheila.
Right now, Dale works about four shifts a week. He makes meals and snacks, plays with the younger kids, and does plenty of cleaning and sanitizing to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
“A job teaches you a lot of things, like responsibility, how to pick up after yourself, and how to look out for others,” he shared.
And of course, the income helps, too. Dale still remembers the excitement and pride of getting his first paycheque, part of which he spent on a take-out meal for his entire family.
“It’s where I feel I belong.”
Next year, Dale starts high school. He’s already setting goals for himself to succeed—and Sheila is confident that, with the right support, he absolutely will.
“Dale’s biggest strength is empathy. You can learn everything else, but you’ve got to work with heart,” Sheila reflected. “He’s going to go far.”
When he grows up, Dale wants to be an athlete. And he believes the discipline he’s learning as a junior staff member is setting him up for a promising future.
“Getting this job is just, like, huge,” Dale expressed. “And it proves that dreams do come true.”
*Since 1976, Rossbrook House, a neighbourhood drop-in centre operating 365 days of the year, has been creating a safe place for young Winnipeggers to belong, play, learn, and become.