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“It quite literally changed my life.”

December 18, 2023

4 MIN READ

Adam stepped through the doors of a donor-supported drop-in centre looking for food and has since been nourished in many other ways

When Adam first stopped by Resource Assistance for Youth a couple of years ago, he didn’t explore much further than what’s spelled out in the organization’s name: he was a young person, in need of a few basic resources, looking for a little help.

“I started coming a year or two years ago, and that was for milk, eggs…. That was one of the main reasons why I did come,” Adam recalled. “I was just coming for food and donations, just saying hello to people once in a while.”

What started out as simple sustenance turned into a nourishment of Adam as a whole,
as he quickly discovered that the Sherbrook Street drop-in centre—affectionately known as RaY—offers so much more than its simple name implies.

It quite literally changed my life.”

For over 25 years, RaY has worked to empower disconnected young Winnipeggers to age 29 with supports, training, and compassion, encouraging them to make the best choices for their lives. 


"I just see so many barriers, so many constant barriers... 
I think a little bit more patience and a little bit more help is needed."

RaY runs a drop-in centre five days a week, as well as integrated programs and services at the non-judgmental, inclusive and colourful space in the city’s Wolseley neighbourhood. RaY’s mission is to provide youth with what they need—on their terms—to better their lives.

“I think it sounds corny, but we refer to ourselves at RaY as a family … and that’s because we are,” said Breda Vosters, RaY’s director of grants and information.

“A lot of folks we see have been involved in systems when they’re young people, maybe they’re jumping around from foster placement to foster placement, or they’ve grown up in a group home, or they’ve been disconnected from their own family roots.

“So when they come through our doors, one of the things they’re really looking for is connection.”

Like Adam, who came to RaY because he wanted a place to hang out safely, meet some people around his own age, and “not be at home.” Soon he began volunteering in the centre’s kitchen, helping to prepare and share hot meals to between 30 and 90 visitors every day.

After about five months as a volunteer, RaY staff offered Adam a chance to participate in Level Up!—a paid training program focused on life skills to help youth “get a job and keep it.” The program is followed by a supported work placement of up to 16 weeks.

“They loved what they saw in me and gave me a chance,” Adam recalled. “I got a bunch of certificates and licenses.”

Adam’s work ethic and professionalism shone through during Level Up!—so much so, RaY offered him a permanent position once he completed his training.

It’s (been) a life-changing experience for me,” he said.

Program Assistant Ayla Banks said these types of services and programs are invaluable for Winnipeg youth who may not have the kinds of supports in their personal lives that others might take for granted.

“I think that there’s a lot of belief that folks aren’t trying hard enough or people aren’t doing all they can to live that life that we would expect. But in fact, I just see so many barriers, so many constant barriers,” she said.

“So I think a little bit more patience and a little bit more help is needed.”

Adam makes hot meals for up to 90 visitors to RaY's Sherbrooke Street drop-in centre each day, and as many as 700 sandwiches a week for the organization's street outreach team to share with unsheltered young people.

These days, Adam usually starts his shift about 8:30 a.m., making sandwiches.
Lots and lots of sandwiches.

That’s because in addition to the hot meals kitchen staff makes for drop-in visitors, they also put together as many as 700 sandwiches every week for RaY’s outreach team to take to the streets and share with unsheltered young people.

As Winnipeg youth currently face a number of complex challenges with safety, mental health, and addiction, it’s another way RaY is meeting kids where they’re at—for a healthy meal, a conversation, and connection.

“We consider these access points for accessing the rest of the services that are maybe slightly more intensive,” Vosters said. “We can begin engagement through those programs—and then we can identify and address their needs.”

Back at the Sherbrook Street centre, Adam finishes with sandwiches and moves onto hot meals. Sometimes it’s pizza buns, or soup, or pasta. One of the most popular dishes on the menu? A classic comfort pairing: grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

“Everyone loves it,” said Adam. “Even the staff.”

Vosters said the annual funding RaY relies upon from donors gives her organization the ability to plan ahead and make sure their doors are always open, the food is always warm—and a circle of support for these kids is reliably, consistently available.

“United Way Winnipeg allows us to offer a baseline of services on a perpetual basis. That’s so invaluable—not just for us, but for also the people we serve.

“They know that our doors are going to be open, and they know that they can come to us.”

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