Finding a voice, fitting in

Lorenzo found friendship, creative expression, and a way to overcome his social anxiety, thanks to a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency partner.

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When you’re experiencing social anxiety, interacting with others can be challenging enough.

Lorenzo, 12, was also facing the difficulties many newcomers experience when he moved to Winnipeg from Brazil in December 2019. His family only knew one person in Winnipeg, and he was concerned that kids would have problems understanding him.

“It was kind of hard because my accent was very strong, so people already knew I wasn’t from here,” he said.

Lorenzo, who also goes by Lolo, was starting to make friends at school, who he said were getting used to his accent. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Within six months, the community was thrust into code red, and Lolo then had the additional challenge of online learning.

“It was difficult,” he said. “I couldn’t see any of my friends or work on my English.”

Lolo’s mom, Vanuza, received a newsletter from his school, and something caught her eye.

It was an ad promoting MAD Camp, a free week-long summer day camp for youth.

MAD, which stands for Music, Art, and Dance, was a new program offered by Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba*, made possible through the generosity of United Way Winnipeg donors.

Campers choose one of these three creative areas to express themselves and form friendships with other kids in their group. On the last day of camp, kids present what they’ve learned at a final showcase.

MAD camp participants.

MAD Camp participants.

“It helped.”

“When my mom brought it up to me, I said sure, let’s give it a try,” Lolo said. “And I just stayed there after seeing how fun it was. And people were so nice.”

Lolo attended the camp for five weeks, honing his musical skills as a drummer.

“I had a bit of an advantage because I played drums for a year in Brazil,” he said. “It was really fun, and I got to meet my new best friend, who played guitar.”

In between practice time, campers also enjoyed snacks and lunch and learned public speaking skills, coping mechanisms, education on mental health, and the importance of self-care. 

Lolo said the camp experience definitely helped with his social anxiety.

“We learned about anxiety and treatment and how to be more curious and ask questions,” he said. “I used to be really shy about talking to people, but I’m not anymore.”

Vanuza said the camp has been great for Lolo.

“He made very good friends at camp,” she said. “As a parent, I’m very grateful to have this support. This is an organization that really helps our community.”

When asked if he plans to attend again next year, his answer was a definitive “Oh heck yeah!”

*Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba is a self-help organization dedicated to providing support, education, and advocacy for those living with a mood disorder, co-occurring disorders, or other mental health illnesses.

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Erica