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Helping others despite the cost

Mother's calling uproots her family

If the world can donate more than $600,000 for bullied American bus monitor Karen Klein, a local pastor figures he can raise $30,000 to pay the salary of a remarkable Winnipeg woman.

"It's a lot of money for us," says Peter Lurvey, "but if people pull together we should be able to do it. Our normal givers are tapped out."

Francine Wiebe moved her family -- including daughters Katie, 12 (centre), and Alexandra, 14 -- so she could home-school African immigrant kids.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Francine Wiebe moved her family -- including daughters Katie, 12 (centre), and Alexandra, 14 -- so she could home-school African immigrant kids.

There are differences in the stories of Klein and teacher Francine Wiebe. Klein's bullying by middle school students was videotaped and put online. It went viral. A Canadian used the social media site to raise money to send Huff on vacation. So much came in, she can retire.

Lurvey posted a video on the same site, describing the Francine Project. He appeals to viewers to donate so Wiebe can draw a modest salary for running an inner-city school serving middle-school refugee and immigrant children. She founded the school last year.

The satellite school, an offshoot of St. Aidan's Christian School, helps kids with their English, math and literacy skills. The school gets a fraction of the government funding given to public schools. They've hired two educational assistants and a teacher of English as an additional language. There was no cash to pay Francine to be the school's administrator and vice-principal. She said she'd do it for nothing. The school does not charge tuition.

Lurvey didn't tell Francine before he posted the video.

She had been a teacher in Transcona, working with refugee kids who were bused in from the inner city. When her job ended, Francine worried her kids were unprepared for regular classrooms. Most read at a Grade 1 level, although they are young teens. She feared some kids would get involved in gangs or be lost to the streets. One of the boys she teaches now got his gang tattoos as an 11-year-old in Elmwood.

After lengthy family discussions, Francine and Chad Wiebe sold their Westwood home, bought a shabby building on Notre Dame Avenue and moved their family in. They now live in a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in the rambling building. They rent out another apartment and some office space.

Ironically, the building was deemed unsafe for a school, so Francine uses donated space at nearby Calvary Temple. It's a far cry from where the couple and daughters Alex, 14, and Katie, 12, once lived.

"We talked about moving to all sorts of places," says Alex. "Kenya, India ...."

"We were hoping for someplace warm and more glamorous," laughs Francine.

They upended their lives because they felt they could do the most good helping kids in Winnipeg. They live on Chad's salary as a corporate technology specialist for Investor's Group. They bought the $400,000 Notre Dame building with the proceeds from the sale of their house.

Katie jokes the only nature they see is a large weed in the parking lot. She and her mom go to Central Park and bike to The Forks to get out of the concrete and noise. The kids say it was hard to leave their tree house, trampoline and friends. But this was a family decision, spurred by faith.

"I think all of us wanted an adventure," says Chad.

The Wiebes raised their daughters to be aware of their social responsibilities. They've volunteered in soup kitchens, visited refugees and been aware of their mom's work.

"This is something where we can all make a difference," says Francine.

The basement holds neat shelves of books. The chalkboard is covered in Spanish, evidence of the family's upcoming volunteer trip to Guatemala. A donated freezer holds food to fill the stomachs of hungry students.

Francine recently won a $2,000 Rev. Harry Lehotsky Award for Community Activism. She put the money back into the school.

Peter Lurvey wants to raise $30,000 to help Francine continue her ministry. You can donate at or send a cheque to St. Aidan's Christian School (Francine Project), 418 Aberdeen Ave., Winnipeg, MB R2W 1V7. You'll get a tax receipt.

And if the $30,000 isn't raised by September? Francine will continue her ministry. This isn't a job, it's a vow to help others.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2012 B1


Updated on Friday, June 29, 2012 at 10:36 AM CDT: corrects "Peter Lumley" to "Peter Lurvey"

12:29 PM: corrects Karen Huff to Karen Klein

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