I lived in Winnipeg for one year, during which time I did so volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs there.
In reality, not much volunteering, maybe 75, maybe 100 at most, hours of involvement. I learned a lot in those short hours.
One of the moments that challenged my lived experiences, at age 22, the most was a conversation at the Winnipeg BGC's Aberdeen location. It's a small clubhouse, in an area with much poverty. A level of poverty that surprised even me, and I grew up in Hamilton's poorest postal codes before ending up in foster care.
A child, age 8 or 9, and I were talking. It was my first day volunteering at this club; he's asking me questions.
This child's shoes were not fit for summer, let alone the Winnipeg winter. I recall being struck by this, thinking about how much poverty there was in north Winnipeg.
Where are you from?
Hamilton I answered.
Why are you in Winnipeg?
I try to steer the conversation away from where it is leading. In my experience at the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, any volunteer who attended McMaster University was going to be temporary, and had no understanding of our neighbour. McMaster of the 1990s did not recruit in East Hamilton.
I did not want this child to see me as a complete outsider, as I would've seen someone of my profile as myself at age 8 or 9.
The child pushes the conversation back.
What School? He says with emphasis.
The University of Manitoba, I say hestitantly.
"My cousin goes there, but I'm going to Winnipeg because they have a better volleyball team!"
I remember the shock I experienced, this child saw himself going to university. It didn't relate to any of my experiences.
The next day, I skipped class, and visited the Executive Director of WBGC Mike Owen. How could this be, what were they doing in Winnipeg that was so different from what I knew of the world from Hamilton.
He explained that the kids are regularly taken to watch Varsity sports at the universities, that the universities have outreach programs, and that if a child shows the potential, they'll be admitted into post-secondary education based upon their character and life experiences.
This lead to my learning about the access programs. It was how I came to be involved with VOICES, a group supporting youth in foster care. I gave my input on transitioning out of care, for a report that was published in September 2005.
Now, back to how this blog post started. A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to the "1st Annual Alumni Pancake Breakfast" which is scheduled for this Friday. Naturally, I'm not in Winnipeg, nonetheless, it was really nice to receive the invite, and to be reminded that the Winnipeg Club - which did so much to assist me in my post-secondary transition - still has me on their membership roll.