An old community centre on a dead-end street looks like any other aging facility in one of Winnipeg's "rough" areas. But open the doors to the East End Cultural and Leisure Centre and you're hit by a wave of music coming from neighbourhood kids rehearsing in a chic new studio.
This is Status4, a non-profit music and activity program that's free for kids in Elmwood.
On Wednesday after school, kids in the voice class rehearsed We Are the World for Status4's first big fundraiser today. Ekhlas Bogani wept while sitting on a black leather loveseats, listening to her three kids sing. "I'm happy about them," said the Sudanese woman who came to Canada 13 years ago. "This is the thing they love to do."
And that's the reason for the program founded by a Winnipeg police officer who named it Status4 -- communication lingo for "on scene."
Kevin Gibson, a constable, musician and dad, spent the last five years setting up the program, fixing up the building and rounding up other volunteers to donate time and instruments.
He wanted a place for kids in the community to "discover what's inside" and develop that talent, he said. "Someone's got to lead the charge," said Gibson, who has three kids of his own.
Bogani's kids, ages 10, nine and five, are in the ethnically diverse voice class taught by Gentil Misigaro, a Status4 volunteer.
The Congolese multi-instrumentalist came to Canada three years ago from Uganda after fleeing Rwanda, after fleeing Congo. The music instructor at the King's School is a Status4 devotee.
"It is fun. It makes you happy even if you've had a bad day," he said after leading a dozen kids aged 6 to 13 in song. "I love it."
Mark Galbon, owner of Mar-Schell's music store, teaches guitar on Mondays and taekwondo on Thursdays, Misigaro said. He teaches dance and drums Tuesdays, voice and songwriting on Wednesdays and piano on Fridays. Starting this fall, Status4 is also teaching music recording, he said.
"By teaching those kids, we're developing their talent but also making sure we guide them along a good way," said Misigaro.
"We try to give them good direction," said the man who's lived in places where police are avoided and feared.
"Usually, with police in other countries, it's a different experience. You can't expect them to be friendly. You only meet them when you're going to be arrested or are being chased after."
Gibson was different, he said. "At first I was 'Wow! Is this how all the Canadian policemen are?' " Other members of the police service help out at Status4, too, and it's good for the kids, Misigaro said.
"They become familiar to them -- they become friends."
Gibson credits music and the arts for connecting people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds.
"I think gaining people's trust is something that you have to earn by your actions and not only words," said Gibson, who grew up in Steinbach and became a police officer at 20. He wanted Status4 to look polished, so the handyman got to work.
Now, drums and electric guitars line the walls he put up and decorated in his spare time.
"It looks very professional."
The city, the province, private and corporate donors and volunteers support the program that attracts up to 25 kids per class. He'd like to see satellites set up in other parts of the city and is working on a proposal to teach music to kids in northern communities using Skype.
The rewards are immediate and long-term for the kids involved, Gibson said. "They do better in school and have more opportunities in life as an adult." The community support officer said he isn't alone in that belief. Whenever help's been needed at Status4, it arrives through word of mouth.
"Good people seem to know good people," he said. "They want to join along."
Status4's fundraiser is tonight at 6:30-11 p.m. at the Robert A. Steen Community Centre, 980 Palmerston Ave. There will be entertainment including performances by Status4 youth and vegan food. Tickets are $25, available at the door.