When Daniela Santos arrived in Winnipeg just over a year ago, the only person she knew in the city was her husband and she could speak very little English. Motivated to meet people and learn about her new Elmwood community, she replied to a ‘Volunteers wanted’ sign in the window of Sam’s Place.
“It was my first contact with Canadians and Canadian life,” Ms. Santos, 28, says of volunteering at the café and bookstore. “Here you can meet people from other worlds, you can see different points of view, and when I left Brazil I was looking for this.”
Alex Jestin was 14-years-old and looking for work experience when a friend told her about Sam’s Place.
“In the amount of time I’ve been volunteering here, I’ve found it a lot easier to talk to people,” says Ms. Jestin, who is now 17 and recently got her first job. “If I had gone straight into that job I’d have struggled so much with that customer service aspect of it.”’
Daniela and Alex are just two of the many young people getting real life experience through the Youth Engagement and Skills Development program at Sam’s Place. Located on Henderson Hwy. close to the Disraeli Freeway, Sam’s Place is a social enterprise operated by Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba. Not only is it a spot to grab a good book and a bite to eat, it’s also a community gathering space and performance venue. The location was chosen because there aren’t many resources available in the area.
“We try to provide options for the community to get informed and learn several things, but also to gather and have fun,” says Youth Engagement, Skills Development and Volunteer Coordinator Alex Strange.
The Youth Engagement program has been around since 2012 and last year alone it worked with 149 volunteers. Many participants are from Indigenous and newcomer communities, have a mental or physical disability, or come from families struggling to get ahead. While some volunteers walk in through the front door, others are referred by schools or community agencies.
“We have gained a good reputation among high schools in the area,” Mr. Strange says. “[Students] can get a school credit from us for volunteering instead of being in the classroom.”
The program is helping young people reach their potential.
“We know there are capable young people here that are going to make a difference in the world in the future, and it’s up to us to give them the chance to begin with that journey,” Mr. Strange says.
Hear more about Sam’s Place the River City 360 podcast.
This story is featured in the Winter 2017 edition of The Winnipeg Foundation’s Working Together magazine.