Winnipeg inner city centre offers youth alternative to streets

Monique Desjarlais (left) accompanied here by Sr. Bernadette O'Reilly of Winnipeg's Rossbrook House, recently completed her bachelor of education.

PRAIRIE MESSENGER PHOTO | JAMES BUCHOK

Monique Desjarlais (left) accompanied here by Sr. Bernadette O'Reilly of Winnipeg's Rossbrook House, recently completed her bachelor of education.

December 1, 2014
JAMES BUCHOK
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

In the heart of one of Winnipeg's most challenging neighbourhoods sits Rossbrook House, a safe haven, especially for children. In the words of its late founder, Sister Geraldine MacNamara, "No child who does not want to be alone should ever have to be."

Rossbrook held its annual open house Nov. 6 and celebrated the academic achievements of the many students, from elementary years to university, who are part of the school programs sponsored by Rossbrook in partnership with the Winnipeg school division.

Co-executive director Maria Vigna said while Rossbrook holds a number of events to celebrate the children, youth and young adults who come through its doors, "This one is my favourite. I know how hard the kids worked to get to this point," she said.

The students earned cash awards of $200 to $2,000 toward their further education for their work in elementary, junior high and senior high programs affiliated with neighbourhood public schools.

The university level scholarships were awarded to graduates of these programs who have gone on to post-secondary studies.

"There's a myth that if you're from the inner city, you'll never make it," said Michael Esquash of Spirit Sands Singers from the Swan Lake First Nation.

"These young people proved that it is a myth. Be proud of who you are. You're not just proving it to the world; you're proving it to yourself."

Esquash told the scholarship recipients the younger kids are watching them. "They will see what is in front of them and they'll see it's not too hard to follow. Keep going, keep trying and never give up. We can't sit and wait for things to come to us."

Rossbrook House opened in 1976 after MacNamara, a law school graduate, secured an empty building which could be converted into a place that could provide an alternative to the environment of the streets.

Rossbrook keeps its doors open 365 days a year and 24 hours every weekend and during all school holidays. Rossbrook recruits its staff from the young people who come to the centre on a regular basis.

According to its website, today, 1,500 children and youth aged six to 24 years pass through the doors annually, and there are up to 100 participants on a daily basis.

PLETHORA OF PROGRAMS

Rossbrook has an afterschool homework club, young mom's group, sports and recreational activities, aboriginal cultural activities, leadership programs, a music program, a money management/matched savings program and a transformative writing program for youth and adults in the community.

In the last year a healthy kitchen project started with the construction of a commercial grade kitchen on the premises providing daily meals while teaching about healthy eating and cooking through hands-on experience.

There is also a strong focus on building employment capacity in youth.