The tagline on the North End Family Centre’s website reads: “Building Community, Empowering Families, Strengthening Winnipeg” and when I met Kyle Mason on a November evening to talk about the centre, it was clear that this is their focus. But before I explain how the centre accomplishes its mission, let me tell you a little bit about it.
The North End Family Centre is currently located in a store front on Main Street between Cathedral and Machray Avenues in the Archambault Building. It looks small and unassuming from the front.
I first noticed the centre on my drive to school. A few times on my journey, I noticed the sign “North End Family Centre” and thought “what a great idea!” but didn’t really give it much notice beyond that. Then, in the summer of 2015 I was taking a course at the University of Manitoba and one of our assignments was to look for grassroots organizations in our area. In my list of organizations, I included North End Family Centre. I checked out their website and liked the things it said. At the time I thought it was a place I might like to volunteer.
The North End Family Centre was founded by Kyle Mason in 2009, but began as an idea over a year earlier. After some time living outside of Winnipeg, Kyle and his family moved back to the Luxton/St. John’s neighbourhood he grew up in and he noticed a lack of services for family and community. He started meeting with community members to see what they felt was needed. Kyle wanted to fill the need, but he didn’t want to duplicate things that were already being handled well elsewhere. He has maintained this focus in the seven years since the centre opened. Once the need was identified, Kyle spent a year and five months in research and planning. This was followed by six months of raising awareness, fundraising and community events. The centre opened at 1322 Main Street, a block south of its current location, in October 2009. Six years later, the centre had outgrown its first home and opened at its new location, 1344 Main Street.
Winnipeg’s North End is often featured on the news as a crime-ridden part of the city, a place to be forgotten, swept under the carpet. But this large area, is an eclectic neighbourhood, filled with regular families just trying to get by. The North End Family Centre aims to serve a small part of the North End, approximately four blocks in each direction from the centre’s site. In a donation appeal, Kyle talks about the needs of the area and the issues the centre seeks to address.
North End Family Centre’s Mission
North End Family Centre’s Mission is to “serve the North End of Winnipeg by providing a safe community gathering place that allows families to connect and belong. We help families break the cycle of poverty by providing programs and services that empower them to meet their life goals.” (NEFC, n.d.)
NEFC’s approach is what I think makes them unique as well as successful. There is no “staff,” only “team members” made up of paid employees and volunteers. There are no clients, only friends. And new visitors to the centre are only friends we haven’t met yet. As I entered the community living room to talk with Kyle, this feeling was there. Even though it was after hours and we were the only ones sitting there, it felt like being welcomed into someone’s home.
Programmes and Services
All the programmes and services offered at NEFC are free of charge and open to anyone from the community.
- Community Living Room – Like a home, this is the first space you see upon entering the centre. Comfy couches and a coffee table make it an inviting space to curl up for a cup of coffee and a good chat.
- Children’s Play Area – Adjacent to the living room, the play area is a separate room that has a door that can be closed if needed. There is also a large window to look in on the little ones. There are toys and books as well as a television set and children’s DVDs
- Community Life Group – This is a more formal group than the living room, where friends can come together to discuss current events, life, and their faith.
- Women’s Sharing Circle – This is a group where women can support one another, bond, socialize, and offer support.
- Men’s Sharing Circle – This is a group where men can support one another, bond, socialize, and offer support.
- Pastoral and Spiritual Care – For those who desire it, pastoral and spiritual care is available, on request.
- Volunteer Opportunities – Everyone can make a contribution to the team, even if it is just to sit and chat in the community living room. It’s a nice way to give back and be active in making changes.
- Life Coaching – When people are making changes in their lives, it helps to have support in goal setting and making plans to achieve those goals.
- Community Kitchen – NEFC has partnered with The North End Food Security Network to offer cooking classes and other activities.
- Community Phone – NEFC has a phone available for people to book appointments and contact family and friends.
- Personal Voice Mail Service – NEFC’s personal voice mail service means people can have a place for messages when job or house hunting. The voice mail service can also be used for appointments, family, etc.
- Community Computers – The centre has three computers. Two are for general use, web surfing, email, Facebook, etc. The other one is a resource only computer and is exclusively for things such as making resumes, searching for jobs and housing, etc.
- Community Shop – The community shop stocks personal care items that are often financially out of reach for many families in the neighbourhood. Donations are always welcome.
- Faxing and Photocopying Service – At NEFC, friends are able to make needed copies and send documents to employers, landlords, doctors, etc.
- Community Laundry Room – The centre has two washers and dryers to assist families who might not have easy access to laundry machines. Use of the machines is free, and of course, while you’re doing laundry, you can visit in the living room and your children can play in the play room!
- Moe the Mouse – NEFC has partnered with The Very READ-y Project to provide a speech and language development program for pre-school aged children. Read more about Moe the Mouse and how the program is helping children in Winnipeg’s North End.
- Monthly Workshops – Each month NEFC holds meetings that help people to meet their goals.
- Agency Referrals – When people need services that aren’t provided on site at NEFC, the team members connect them with the service or programme that they need.
- Advocacy – Sometimes, you just need someone in your corner. Team members can act as advocates when you are navigating trickier situations.
Events at the North End Family Centre
Children’s Christmas Party – Every year, NEFC holds a Christmas party for the kids. The only requirement is registration. The event takes place at St. John’s Cathedral and is a Christmas dinner, a Christmas program and new toys for each of the children attending. Registration is taken via email but also in person at the centre when it is open. Often, families don’t have enough money to buy new toys for their children and really, Christmas is all about the children. This is a great community evening to come together, celebrate the season, and watch the joy on the face of the children as they receive a cherished toy.
Community Birthday Parties – Each month a birthday party is held, complete with homemade cupcakes, to celebrate all those born that month. The centre is decorated with balloons, friends gather to make cupcakes from scratch, and Happy Birthday is sung. Many of the people who come to the centre have not celebrated their birthdays in a long time. It’s a nice way to feel special!
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the centre uses its multipurpose room to celebrate these important people in the community. Many of the families are headed by single parents. Often these parents, having only young children, have never had a celebration of their special day. The community comes together to celebrate moms and dads, reminding them how important they are in their children’s lives.
Some Final Thoughts
I am not the only one who sees the benefits of the North End Family Centre. Many people who live or have lived in the north end are champions of the organization. The centre has made a difference in the lives of the people in this community.
When I spoke with Kyle, he was clear to point out that there are no requirements to come to the centre and be a friend. Everyone is welcome without question.
Though I understood the need for an organization like NEFC and appreciate the great work they are doing in my community, Kyle drove the point home with a story. Imagine you are living in the community and have a drug problem. Through some means, you recognize that you have a problem and you go into rehab. When you come out of rehab, you move back into your neighbourhood but you realize that you can no longer go to the same places or do the same things you used to do, because doing so will land you right back into the addiction. You also recognize that the friends you once had are part of the world of that addiction. Where do you go when you have to make all new friends? NEFC is always there, willing to include you in whatever way works for you.
The most impressive thing to me about North End Family Centre’s successful seven year operation is that over 90% of the activities and operating costs are privately funded by donations. Kyle is the main advocate for the centre, making appeals through events, presentations, and maintaining a social media presence to get the word out there that this organization is worth having. NEFC maintains a website, and a Facebook account. They have an established presence on Twitter and Instagram. You can sign up for their email list and, if you wish, a simple phone call to Jeff at 204-582-7927 will add you to their postal mail list.
Bookmates Inc. (n.d.). The Very READ-y Project. Retrieved from http://bookmates.ca/what-we-offer/the-very-read-y-project/
Braun, S. (n.d.). Getting READ-y to read with Moe the Mouse. Retrieved from http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/our-communities/times/correspondent/Getting-READ-y-to-read-with-Moe-the-Mouse-210101261.html
North End Family Centre. (2012, October 5). The community share their stories. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6O_ZUar0lY
North End Family Centre (2015, July 6). A message from Steve Bell. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEF78SJl8l8
North End Family Centre. (2015, July 20). The tracks cannot divide us! [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vC3J2Vyn68
North End Family Centre. (2015, August 16). We are all in this together. [Video file].Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6O_ZUar0lY
North End Family Centre. (n.d.). “Building Community, Empowering Families, Strengthening Winnipeg” Retrieved December 04, 2016, from http://www.northendfamilycentre.org/
NEFSN. (n.d.). North End Food Security Network. Retrieved December 04, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/nefsn/
*all media used with permission of North End Family Centre