We had the privilege of spending two weeks living in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. During this time, we were exposed to many different social issues and we were able to really get a feel for what the community at Anishinabe Place of Hope Church and Winnipeg Inner City Missions (WICM) were facing. During the two weeks, we conducted a community assessment with the goal of creating an organizational report for WICM. We visited several organizations in the downtown core to learn more about the programs and services that they offer. We also had the opportunity to interview participants of the programs that WICM offers, the staff members, and members of the church community.
Anishinabe Place of Hope Presbyterian Church
Winnipeg Inner City Missions is a mission of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, which branches out to help those living in the inner city of Winnipeg. Both Christian and Aboriginal traditional Spiritual teachings are welcomed at Anishinabe Place of Hope Presbyterian Church. There is also a Sunday School for ages 2 and 13, during church service after the family action songs and story time.
Winnipeg Inner City Missions operates four main programs/services.
First Steps to Employment Project
The First Steps Program offers transitional housing to single unemployed, or underemployed, adults living in poverty between the ages of 30 and 50. WICM aids these individuals in getting back into the workforce and achieving their goals. At A Place of Hope, they develop the skills necessary to help them succeed in the “outside” world. Some include social skills, self-discipline, employment skills, and learning to be independent. They also attend counselling, volunteer at WICM for a minimum of 3 hours per week, and agree to follow the policies and guidelines, including total sobriety during their stay. Residents tend to live at A Place of Hope for anywhere between 3 and 5 years.
Flora House is a youth program for children between the ages of 6 and 14. There is an after-school program running during the school year as well as a summer program. The programs are geared towards educating the youth, building their self-esteem, and providing a safe space and community to keep them off the streets or to keep them from getting into trouble.
Learn and Play Program
The Learn and Play Program is for families with preschoolers and younger, and aids in preparing the children for school. As the name suggests, the program is focused on learning through playing. This program allows children to learn essential skills, and also teaches parents how to nurture and love their children.
WICM Thrift Store
The Miracle Store is located at Anishinabe Fellowship Centre. People who live in extreme poverty are unable to buy clothing from many of the thrift stores around Winnipeg, as costs have increased with the increasing popularity of thrifting. The Miracle Store is a thrift store where most items are sold for 25 cents. This cost, although minimal, helps to keep the store running and maintains a sense of dignity for those who need to use the clothing bank.
Saturday morning, we left on an early flight to Winnipeg! It was our first time in Winnipeg, and travelling alone too. Once we arrived, we met Susan Currie, one of the Parish Social Workers at WICM. She was waiting for us at the arrivals with a sign that says ‘Lauren and April’, and after picking up our bags, we went out to the car to meet Rev. Margaret Mullin. We had lunch with Susan and Rev. Margaret and spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other. We learned a lot about WICM and what they do on a daily basis. We listened to many stories of issues and happenings in the community and about the people that they serve.
Sunday was our second day in Winnipeg, and it was the first day that we actually participated in community activities. We had the opportunity to go out with the Church drivers to pick up members of the congregation before church started.
Church service began at 3:30 with the Call to Worship. The children carried the Eagle’s Staff into worship and we sang ‘Lord We Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Awesome God’.
The service was very different from ours at St. Tims. The kids and adults are all in the same area and the actual service is very informal. Children are free to roam around and explore; which is the Indigenous way of teaching their children. Parents can relax and let them roam because they know that other members of the church will be watching out for their kids.
After the call to worship, there was an infant baptism! We got to witness how baptisms are done at Anishinabe Place Of Hope Presbyterian Church, and they felt very intimate within the family rather than within the entire congregation.
After the baptism, the kids had a Prayer Circle, which is where all the kids holds hands and squeeze each other’s hands while saying, “God loves you!”
After the Prayer Circle, Lauren went outside for Sunday School and played with the kids at the park. April, on the other hand, stayed inside and listened to Rev. Margaret’s sermon.
Rev. Margaret’s sermon was about poverty and drug use within the community and how much it is affecting them and their children. She wanted everyone in the congregation to know that there is hope for them, that this wasn’t the end. They will get through this together and create a better community for their children.
Monday was our first day meeting Ruth Magnuson, the executive director of WICM, as well as another Canada Jobs Summer Student, Cara Jones. We had a meeting to discuss the plans for the upcoming two weeks. We were tasked with conducting a community assessment via interviews to see what the needs were in the community. The end goal of our work was to create an organizational report that depicts what direction WICM needs to take in the future to fulfill the goals of their mission vision and values and to highlight any improvements that could be made.
After our meeting, Ruth took us on a tour of Winnipeg and gave us a detailed description of each place we visited. We drove around several different neighbourhoods and were exposed to the inner city. We started at the North End, which is a fairly large area of extreme poverty. It is home to low-income families and is also a very rough and dangerous area, especially at night. There is a lot of crime and violence that happens in the area, with gangs, prostitution, and lots of substance abuse.
We were able to visit Flora House, which is one of the youth missions of WICM. After touring the North End, we visited The Forks and the core of the downtown district. There was such a big contrast between the Forks and the North End. It was almost like they were two different cities!
We also participated in a cooking class, led by Jennifer Ostash-Gooch, a youth pastor at Prairie Presbyterian Church. We had lunch with the younger Flora House kids that day, and in the afternoon, we planned out the questions that we would ask during interviews.
We spent the day revising our interview questions and scheduling interview appointments with other organizations as well as members of the community.
We also participated in one of the residents’ cooking classes and had lunch with a few of the residents. During this time, we were able to learn more about them and their experiences, as well as the reasons why they chose to join the First Steps to Employment Project.
Wednesday was the day that the older youth of Flora House had their cooking class. So, we spent our morning making breakfast with the kids, and interviewing some of the staff members and children of Flora House. We were able to learn more about their hopes for the future and the needs that they have now.
We also had the opportunity to meet with people at Weetamah Salvation Army, across the street, to hear more about their program, the services they offer, and the community that they serve. We ran into one of the old A Place of Hope residents while we were at the correction centre, who now works with Salvation Army and has developed a program dedicated to women in the sex-trafficing business. She helps to get them off the streets, and back to the lives they lived before.
Thursday was the day when we were busy interviewing different organizations in the area. We talked to a youth in-care support organization known as VOICES, under the Boys and Girls Club. We also met with the Winnipeg Transition Center to learn more about their Employment Assistance and Resource Services program.
We also met with Joseph, one of the current residents, to learn more about his experience here at A Place Of Hope and with the First Steps Program.
For lunch, we stopped by the Winnipeg’s Farmers Market, located downtown. The original Farmers Market was very small, but it has grown a lot over the past few years.
Finally, we went to the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ baseball game after dinner with some of the Flora House kids, and Sean, another one of the residents at A Place of Hope.
Friday was our day off and the day that we toured Winnipeg! We spent the afternoon enjoying the sun while walking around the Assiniboine Zoo. We got to see some of the polar bears at the research centre, touched stingrays, and also had a lot of fun just exploring the park.
Afterwards, we stopped by in the city to walk around Osborne St, which has a lot of small shops. Finally, we finished the night off at The Forks, with some dinner, ice cream, and lots and lots of talking.
Saturday was the long awaited day of the Canada Youth 2020 Fundraiser Yard Sale! The church is sending 12 youth between the ages 15 and 27, to Toronto for the Canada Youth Conference in 2020. This conference is targeted towards youth from Presbyterian Churches all around Canada and runs every two years.
A Place of Hope Presbyterian Church has attended Canada Youth previously, in 2018. The youth of the church had such a great experience and hoped to go again. In order to raise money to cover the costs of the conference, flight, and living expenses, they decided to have a yard sale. We had the privilege to help them organize and run this! All the items they were selling were all donated by members of the congregation and people in the community.
There were a lot of different things happening during the day. Not only were they selling clothes and household items, they also had games and a food stand. There were two games that we were in charge of, one was a candy guess and the other was ring toss. We sold out on the Bannock burgers and hot dogs by the end of the afternoon!
The whole day went by well, but there were some struggles along the way. One of the biggest struggles we faced was working through the rain. There was a sudden downpour, but everyone still worked very hard, and we managed to sell a lot despite the bad weather.
We managed to earn $1197.35 from the yard sale. This is enough to send one youth to the Canada Youth 2020 Conference! Everyone worked diligently and we are very glad to be able to work with everyone and be a helping hand!
We spent Sunday morning prepping for the special supper. One of the volunteers, Grace, is Korean. She cooks Korean food for everyone about once a month. So, we helped with cutting up all the veggies and setting up for church.
Before service started, Rev. Margaret went around with a bowl of burning sage, and was smudging people. Smudging is the Indigenous way of spiritual cleansing and preparing for worship. She walked around to each person, eagle feather in one hand, spreading the smoke. The adults and even the young children would make a motion to put the smoke around their bodies. After finishing, Rev. Margaret explained the entire practice to us. She told us the significance of the ritual, and how it was used to prepare the community for worship.
We also learned more about the Anishinabe culture, the symbolism of 4, what the 4 colours represent to Aboriginals (black, white, yellow, red) and what the Eagle’s staff represents. Rev. Margaret’s spontaneous lecture about the Indigenous culture and traditions was very informative and very interesting!
Monday was the day we learned about Inner City Youth Alive’s Story Studio. It’s a place for people to document their experiences and their lives. It reminded us of our Stories of Faith project! We spent the morning watching some of those videos to get a better idea of the needs of the community.
Our afternoon with spent with the younger Flora House kids. We made pizza bagels together, and then for dessert, we made an apple crisp!
After the cooking class, we went to interview Lorna and Susan at the Miracle Store. We talked to them about their experiences with the Learn and Play Program, about their lives and experiences, and what they thought the community needed.
Finally, for dinner, we went out to do a bit of shopping for thank you gifts, and we had a lovely pasta dinner at The Forks!
Tuesday was the day of the residents’ cooking class! We had a big lunch with a bunch of them. We made pizzas, pasta, salad, and apple crisp from scratch, and even got to try Albert’s homemade BBQ Chicken Bannock pizza!
Later in the day, we interviewed one of the newer residents’, Sean. After the interview, we visited a few of the other organizations in the area to see what services they provided, as well as to learn more about what they do. We visited the Boys and Girls Club at the Freight House, which is has after-school and summer drop-in programs for youth, and Red Road Lodge, a transitional housing facility.
On Wednesday we spent the day writing up the organizational report for WICM. The report consisted of all the interviews we conducted, a breakdown of the organizations we visited, as well as suggestions for improvements.
We also participated in the cooking class with the older Flora House kids in the afternoon, making pizza and apple crisp for the third time!
We also had the opportunity to have an extensive tour of the Main Street Project and everything that they offer after lunch. Main Street Project offer a lot of different programs and services that WICM does not. They have permanent housing, detox centre, food bank, drop in centre, protective care, and more. Their main focus is giving a safe space for anyone in need. One of the biggest differences between Main Street Project and WICM is that the people who participate in the programs Main Street Project offer, can have the choice of being sober.
After work, we visited the Canadian National Museum for Human Rights! We spent a lot of time reading about different issues in history. We got to read about the Aboriginals and their experiences with residential schools and the 60’s scoop. They also had the Nelson Mandela exhibit running, so we got to learn more about the apartheid and the history of oppression in South Africa.
Thursday was our last day in Winnipeg! We finalized the report and submitted it, then went for lunch with all the staff members of WICM; Crystal, Susan, Ruth, and Cara. We talked over lunch about everything that we’ve experienced over the past two weeks. We also discussed the work that other organizations in the area were doing, the needs of the community, and any improvements that could be made to the programs that WICM offers.
It finally became real to us that our trip was slowly coming to an end. Having lunch with all the ladies was a bittersweet end to our time in Winnipeg. We realized just how much love there is in that community, and how much care they have for one another. We could see God’s grace working in this ungracious world we live in; even in a community so far from home. We’re left with overwhelming love and thanksgiving for how much we’ve received. Our hearts go out to the inner-city community in Winnipeg!
We truly thank everyone that we’ve met over the two weeks and we especially thank the loving and caring staff at WICM that made us feel at home! Thank you for making our time in Winnipeg an eye-opening experience and absolutely amazing!