At first, he had no friends

Now Nicolai has friends, and a place to go that feels like home.

At first, he had no friends - United Way Winnipeg

Nicolai (left), sister Zahlia (back), brothers Oliver and Austin (sleeping), and mom Nobuko at the centre where Nicolai finds fun, safety, and a sense of belonging thanks to United Way Winnipeg donor-supported programming.

When kids feel like they belong, they can thrive.

For 10-year-old Nicolai, he found that feeling at Building Belonging—a United Way Winnipeg donor-funded program run by Spence Neighbourhood Association.

“At school, I didn’t have a single friend, but then I had a friend I made here who comes to my school too. That’s how I made my first friend.”

Nicolai started attending the Building Belonging program after coming to Winnipeg from Japan with his family last fall.

The program gives kids a nutritious meal, activities and outings, and help with homework after school and during summer months. Staff also walk kids to the program from two area schools.

Nicolai says it feels like a home to him. And he feels safe.

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“I had a friend I made here who comes to my school too. That’s how I made my first friend.”

His Mom, Nobuko, cares for Nicolai and his three siblings while dad Alexander goes to school full time. They have very little money to spare.

Nicolai needs the activities and outings, Nobuko says, and she could not provide them without the program.

“He gets to go to many places and is learning about our city. He’s getting an education and also lots of physical activities, and he needs that because he is a very active boy.”

Their first winter here was brutally cold, and Nobuko is grateful for the advice and help provided to her by the program staff.

“In Tokyo, when the temperature gets below zero we panic. When we get snow the public transportation system stops,” said Nobuko. “Here, -40C and people live normally. That’s amazing to me.”

“When the temperature is very cold it’s hard for me to pick Nicolai up from school, so I really appreciate the staff bringing him here and keeping him safe.”

United Way Winnipeg donors create not only belonging and safety for kids with programming like this, but also a sense of family that stretches across generations.

Building Belonging coordinator Allison Besel has watched kids grow up through the program. She says participants and their family members will often stay engaged in the community for as long as they live there.

“The greatest compliment comes when kids invite their younger family members or new friends to join them at the program and I hear them list all their favourite parts of what we do.”

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EricaBelonging and safety for kids