Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He's helping make North End safer

Ambassador program an alternative to policing

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Chris Harper is one person who can say he has figuratively and physically made his community's streets safer and cleaner.

Three years ago, Harper was out of work. Without a resumé or computer skills, his job options were limited.

Harper found help at the North End Community Renewal Corp.'s PATH Employability Centre, a free service that provides career assessment, counselling, computer training and job placements for residents in the North End. The services are provided as a way of creating social and economic renewal for the North End.

Harper was quickly set up with steady, paying work in his community.

But another aspect of NECRC's work caught Harper's eye. Every day in the North End, he'd see people dressed in orange jackets and hats, visiting with people, cleaning the streets and keeping the peace.

"I would see them on the streets and I don't know, it just looked like they were helping people. I didn't even know at first exactly what they did, I just wanted to do that. So I decided to apply," Harper said.

Harper has since become a member of the North End Ambassador's Program, a five-person team that patrols the North End, provides safe walks, works with residents and cleans the streets of dangerous material such as used syringes.

The program works as a peaceful alternative to traditional policing. If there's a problem, they don't intervene physically -- they try to work the issue through verbally.

"People don't have a lot of trust for the police in this neighbourhood. But with us around -- like, we are the community. People around here know that they can trust us and we're going to help," Harper said.

Although Harper only volunteers with the ambassador's program, four other people on the team are paid workers.

NECRC is able to pay its employees, thanks in part to an annual donation by the United Way.

The financial support is just a part of a larger initiative by the United Way to create positive social change by strengthening individual communities like the North End.

"There's a gap in our budget and because of the United Way funding, our employees get benefits and we have partnerships to create employment opportunities, like with the North End Ambassador's Program," said Rob Neufeld, executive director of the program.

"This is a very much made-in-the North End, for the North End type of initiative."

Neufeld said the program doesn't just help North End residents, it also helps the ambassadors themselves.

Dean Nelson worked in construction for a number of years, but said being a North End ambassador is the most rewarding work of his life.

"This neighbourhood is a lot safer than it used to be. I like being a part of that. I spend all day meeting people, helping people. It's a great job," Nelson said.

Jennifer Sanderson said the most rewarding part is the feeling at the end of the day that she's done her best and made a difference in the neighbourhood she loves so much.

"You get to meet and hang out with amazing people that you know all day. It makes the day go by so fast because you're helping people and giving back. You're always laughing. What could be better?"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A13

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