Warmth, support at neighbourhood family centre

‘Walking school bus’ only one of the services

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

Peel back the door at the Plessis Road Family Resource Centre on any given morning, and you’ll likely be offered breakfast, a cup of coffee and a warm hug.

Leah McGuiness hands out food to children for the breakfast program. JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Leah McGuiness hands out food to children for the breakfast program. JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Located among 100 suites in a Manitoba Housing complex in Transcona, the centre is a community living room. About 150 to 200 people file in throughout the day to eat, socialize, do crafting, do laundry, use the computer or get counselling.

The Plessis Road hot spot is one of six family resource centres in Winnipeg, sponsored by United Way Winnipeg and Family Dynamics, a non-profit dedicated to building healthy communities.

Fifty to 60 kids come in each morning to grab a bite before setting off together in a walking queue that, like a school bus, picks up kids as it moves along. The walking school bus was a community-driven idea brainstormed after a truancy officer reported students’ attendance rates were too low.

Leah gets some help making sure the walking school bus crosses a road safely. DOUG LITTLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Leah gets some help making sure the walking school bus crosses a road safely. DOUG LITTLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Most of them trek 1.8 kilometres to Bernie Wolfe Community School, and others head to French immersion or high schools nearby.

The breakfast program was an added incentive to get families out of bed.

Leah McGuinness, a single mom of six, knows the early morning struggle all too well.

After volunteering at the Plessis centre when her kids were young, McGuinness began working there, preparing meals for children and leading the walking school bus.

“I’ve had to take a break from work and go knock on doors to help kids and parents. Because I’ve been there, I’ve totally been there. When all my kids were younger, I went through very bad depression, and it’s hard to get motivated,” she said.

Glasses of milk for children, part of the breakfast program at the Plessis Road Family Resource Centre. JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Glasses of milk for children, part of the breakfast program at the Plessis Road Family Resource Centre. JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The centre recently underwent major renovations by Manitoba Housing and reopened Tuesday.

Boasting a sunny yellow paint job, new floors and more space, you’d never guess it used to be a workshop where tractors were fixed, said development co-ordinator Debbie Kutzan.

Now, Kutzan said the “organized chaos” inside the family centre is vital to the community.

“This is kind of my passion,” she said. “It’s important to see everybody succeed. So it’s wanting, welcoming and caring — that’s what we do.”

Breakfast at Plessis Road - a good start to a school day! DOUG LITTLE PHOTOGRAPHY.

Breakfast at Plessis Road – a good start to a school day! DOUG LITTLE PHOTOGRAPHY.

Both women deem their jobs rewarding, and McGuinness has noticed her kids’ behaviour improve.

“The way they are with the other children in the community — there’s more of a relationship there. When they all come in here in the morning and (are) eating the same stuff together every day, it really forms a bond with them,” she said.

“Every family is deserving of this help, this hand up. Like, I can’t save the world, but at least I can work with the kids here, for now.”

If you would like to help Plessis Road FRC with a donation to United Way go to www.unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/give or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).

Republished with permission from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2015