Judi Zolondek doesn’t like weekends much. That’s when her family resource centre is closed.
“To sum it up, Monday to Friday is my favorite time. I don’t like weekends anymore because the centre is closed. I enjoy the friendships and the compassion this centre shows to everyone.”
Ms. Zolondek has been living in the Manitoba Housing complex on Keenleyside for almost six years. The on-site family resource centre, run by Family Dynamics, is the social hub of the community for many in the 92-unit facility, including Judi.
“Without the resource centre a lot of people wouldn’t get out and meet their neighbours, they wouldn’t get out and socialize. I’m mobility-limited and if it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t see anyone except for my son because I can’t even make it to the bus. This is my lifeline to the world.”
A $15 million, six-year initiative spearheaded by the United Way is ensuring additional support for the 24 family resource centres across Winnipeg. The For Every Family program is supported by a $1 million grant from The Winnipeg Foundation and is also supported by the Province of Manitoba and many additional donors.
According to United Way, more than 35,000 citizens accessed programs and services offered in family resource centres across Winnipeg last year.
“In every neighborhood across this terrific city we all share, people with the greatest needs are concentrated [around family resource centres],” says Marilyn McLaren, Chair of United Way. “They know how to find these family centres and they make an incredible difference in their lives. They provide a safe, welcoming and nurturing space for people… There’s a very real connection between the important work done at these centres and better outcomes for children and their families.”
Currently, a lack of funding restricts the number of hours centres can be open – some as few as six hours a week.
“It’s a complete mishmash, the centres are living on a shoestring [budget]. But on that shoestring, they’re doing unbelievable work,” says Dave Johnston, Chair of the For Every Family Working Group.
For Every Family aims to keep family resource centres open a minimum of 40 hours a week, help them access additional programming resources, and build a network connecting them, so centres can share best practices.
Additional support for their family resource centre is great for residents in the Keenleyside complex, as hours were recently cut.
The centre offers many programs including a community kitchen, clothing depot, counselling, anger management, budgeting, parental coaching, scrapbooking workshops, family nights, kids cooking classes, and more. All programs are decided by residents at twice-monthly tenant meetings.
“It empowers people to make choices,” Coordinator Sharon Lagimodiere says of the tenant meetings. Ms. Lagimodiere opened the centre four years ago and now works alongside fellow coordinator Louise Friesen. “We guide, but they make decisions… They empower each other: someone knows how to cook, someone knows how to bake, someone knows how to sew. It strengthens them when they can [organize programming] for themselves.”
The community kitchen program is a favourite for tenants. For just $4, they can make and take home a meal that will feed four.
“It broadened my recipe repertoire, I really enjoy sharing new recipes. It’s cost effective. I’m eating things that I never ate before, like the different spices and different combinations. That’s encouraging me to continue at home. I love it,” Judi says.
Working together in the kitchen also helps build relationships, especially with newcomer populations.
“We get past that language barrier and work together and cook together,” says resident Charlene Picard. “Some of us come from places where we didn’t have big families or a lot of support, we didn’t get to work together as a family. I think that it builds capacity in us, and it builds hope in us.”
Some residents may have trust or mental health issues. Coordinators work hard to encourage residents to come to the centre. In one recent case, Louise and Sharon spent a year encouraging a woman and her kids to come to programming.
“We do a lot of outreach. If we see somebody struggling or somebody new [to the complex] or even to the city… we will go invite them in and sometimes it takes a while but they come in and they’re happy,” Sharon says.
Ms. Picard and her three children moved into the complex about two and a half years ago. Being in the positive space has changed their lives.
“We came here from a really rough place so [my kids are] healing. My daughter, she was afraid of men when we got here, and now she’s not anymore. That comes from being around healthier people in a healthier environment.”
This positivity expands to the entire housing complex.
“We build bonds with each other and then we’re watching out for each other outside of the community centre,” Charlene says. “We kind of built a strong foundation. If we didn’t have a community centre we would be watching our own backs, we wouldn’t have that strength.”
Judi Zolondek agrees.
“This community centre has made this a community, not a housing project. It’s a chance to meet friends, meet your neighbours, and lose any stigma. Everybody has their strengths, and we share them.”
Family Resource Centres receiving support through For Every Family
- Andrews Street Family Centre
- Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute
- Elmwood Community Resource Centre and Area Association
- Family Dynamics (Elwick)
- Family Dynamics (Keenleyside)
- Family Dynamics (Plessis)
- Family Dynamics (Tuxedo)
- Family Dynamics (Westgrove)
- Family Dynamics (Woodydell)
- Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre
- Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre (Anderson)
- Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre (McGregor)
- Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre (Spence)
- Marlene Street Resource Centre
- North End Women’s Centre
- North Point Douglas Women’s Centre
- NorWest Co-Op Community Health (Blake Gardens)
- NorWest Co-Op Community Health (Gilbert Park)
- NorWest Co-Op Community Health (Alexander)
- South Winnipeg Family Information Centre
- Thrive: Community Support Circle
- West Central Women’s Resource Centre
- Winnipeg Central Park Women’s Resource Centre
- Wolseley Family Place
This story first appeared in The Winnipeg Foundation’s Working Together magazine.