Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Playgroup births bridges, book, film

Stay-at-home city mom got the ball rolling

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The beauty of a weekly playgroup, with suburban and newcomer moms and tots meeting in the inner city, has evolved into art, inspiring a book and a documentary film just in time for International Women's Day this Saturday.

Volunteer-run KidBridge was started four years ago by Lorelle Perry, a teacher by training, staying at home with her children, who were one and three years old at the time.

"I was an at-home mom doing the playgroup circuit," Perry said. "It seemed a little unfulfilling to me." It dawned on her that there's a whole new world to get to know right here in Winnipeg.

"I thought, 'I'm going to make some new friends from places around the world and help them with English as our children play together.' "

She founded the KidBridge program four years ago with donated space from Calvary Temple downtown. Moms and kids meet every Wednesday morning, with from five to 17 moms and their children getting together.

"KidBridge is about being a bridge between suburban moms cwith newly immigrated moms -- connecting moms in the new-immigrant community with moms firmly planted in Canadian society," Perry said.

Last year, with some government funding, they published the book Letters to Our Children: the Memories, Challenges, and Dreams of Mothers New to Canada. It featured 18 letters by moms from 12 different countries explaining to their children why they left their country, what they miss, what they love and find difficult about living in Canada, and their dreams for their children's future here.

"Kids assimilate so quickly we don't want them to take for granted the sacrifices their folks made for them," said Perry. Each letter is accompanied by a vibrant, block-print illustration the mothers produced under the guidance of a local printmaking artist.

When the moms shared their stories, it was powerful, Perry said.

"When I saw the mothers read their letters to their child in the child's classroom, they were transformed into heroes in front of all these children. For all they've overcome, against all odds, they made it here from across the globe."

She told a filmmaker friend who decided to make a documentary about the letters. "That was our motivation" Perry said.

Letters to Our Children: Stories of Refuge is being shown at a private screening on International Women's Day Saturday at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

"My desire is that the people who watch it will find themselves wanting to stand closer to newcomers in the grocery-store lineup, to ask them, 'Is there anything I can help you find?' and to lean into relationships with newcomers -- have them for coffee or for dinner," Perry said.

"In schools, the demographic has changed overnight and we need to get outside ourselves. It's not just about wanting to be a good neighbour -- they're fascinating people," she said. "Whenever you engage with another person, you get a lot more than you give."

The KidBridge playgroup is simple idea that Perry hopes will catch on across Canada.

"Many mothers come to hang out. It's a bit of a coffee club -- a chance to get out of the house and meet with other women and talk about how they're getting on in Winnipeg," Perry said.

"They become friends. We want to really build bridges, because the sooner newcomer moms feel plugged in and integrated into society, the sooner we all move forward as a society and the stronger and richer we are," she said.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2014 B3

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