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Building confidence, courage, and connection

January 27, 2023


How a donor-supported youth program helped unlock Rihanna’s potential

photo by Darcy Finley, Winnipeg Free Press

Help change lives like Rihanna’s in Winnipeg now.

Eleven-year-old Rihanna was having a tough time at school. Bullying shattered her sense of self-worth, and she didn’t want to go to class. Her declining attendance put her at a further disadvantage. She was looking for support and found it through Gilbert Park Going Places. The youth programming has helped build up her confidence, and now, she not only eagerly takes part in the activities; she thrives and aspires to help others.

Gilbert Park Going Places (GPGP) is an initiative of NorWest Co-op Community Health and offers free programming for youth, funded by the generous support of United Way donors. GPGP hosts a range of after-school and summer activities (snacks included!) six days a week for youths in grades 4 through 8 who live in the Gilbert Park area. Their programs focus on building healthy relationships, literacy, numeracy, and physical activity.

“Through our day camp program that’s run in the summer, we try to address educational needs due to low attendance rates and prevent summer learning loss,” explains Holly Bustarde, a social worker with GPGP. “Program activities address physical and emotional needs and create engagement with community members and other children to help decrease social isolation throughout the summer.” It was through the day camp program that Holly first met Rihanna.

Photo by Darcy Finley, Winnipeg Free Press


“When we met, Rihanna was quite shy, soft spoken and was facing a lot of struggles with her self-esteem due to bullying. Through our day camp, we were able to engage with her every day and build a relationship,” says Holly. After day camp, employees encouraged Rihanna to take part in some of the other programs offered during the school year. She continues to participate in many GPGP programs like Kids in the Kitchen, kids’ bingo and girls’ group.

Rihanna’s favourite program is Kids in the Kitchen, where she learns about food safety and general kitchen skills to prepare healthy meals. She says that through the programming at GPGP, she was able to grow her self-esteem and expand her confidence, and as a result, she is bullied less. Rihanna describes the programs as fun and says they have given her an opportunity to make friends with other kids.

“Some of the things that I’ve noticed with Rihanna is that she’s more engaged with her friends. She’s bringing friends along with her to the program. She participates a lot in discussion, especially in regard to friendships and social media,” says Holly. “Even helping out with programs – she’s a very helpful kid. She’s always volunteering; if anyone needs to throw out the garbage, or if we need help cleaning the kitchen, she’s always there to raise her hand first.”

Rihanna’s mom Monica is grateful for the support and resources her daughter has access to, and through Rihanna’s involvement with GPGP, she learned about NorWest’s other offerings. Monica says their lives have been positively impacted by GPGP and NorWest. She is especially fond of the community lunches that the Resource Centre offers and knows that they can rely on Resource Centre staff for support.

Holly says that through discussions with the community, they have identified several ongoing concerns, such as low attendance, food insecurity, mental health and substance use. Her hope for the programming is that it can provide kids with the tools to deal with these issues in a healthy way.

“We really do want the children gaining skills; that’s why we offer a bit of everything,” Holly explains. “Building engagement, strengthening the youth, helping them to increase their capacity for success, and also offering support, whether it might be emotional, physical or even mental health needs.”


“She’s always volunteering, if anyone needs to throw out the garbage, or if we need help cleaning the kitchen, she’s always there to raise her hand first.”

 Some of the programs offered at Gilbert Park include:

  • Healthy Relationships: teaches healthy communication, boundaries, responses to peer pressure and more through discussion and group activities.
  • Careers for Kids: workplace visits to learn more about career options
  • Film Club: media production skills
  • Kids in the Kitchen: kitchen skills and food safety.
  • Drop-in counselling
  • Beading
  • Boys & Girls Groups
  • Homework Help and Literacy programs
  • Peer Mentor Program: a 15-week hands-on course that teaches youth how to be leaders in their community.
  • Informal activities including Xbox, computer skills, gym, art, bike rides, books, movies, sports, homework help and field trips.

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