Cindy Little was 36 and a mother of two when her husband, Chris, died. A diabetic, he'd developed a slight infection and gone to bed to nap. When she came to wake him, holding their daughter, he was blue. An autopsy showed his cause of death was pulmonary heart disease.
Her life crumpled. Their son, Zachary, was four. Holly was two.
"Chris looked after the finances. I looked after the house. I had to figure out how we were financially. Chris wasn't insured because his health meant it was so expensive."
Her children were in a home daycare she couldn't afford on one salary. She needed to go back to work, but didn't know how to find alternate care. She called the Family Centre, a non-profit agency offering a wide range of services in Winnipeg.
They set her up with a person who came into her house for a month and looked after the kids while she worked. The agency helped her find subsidized daycare. And they offered grief counselling, both to Cindy and Zachary. It's been five years and they still use the service.
"Not only was I grieving, my child was grieving," says Cindy, adding Holly is too young to remember her dad.
The Family Centre recently rebranded itself as Family Dynamics in an effort to raise its public profile, attract donations and make it clear they are not a government agency. Most of their budget comes from United Way and the province. They were founded in 1936 and help over 6,000 clients annually.
They may be Winnipeg's best-kept, well-used secret.
Valerie Christie became a client nine years ago when her triplets were born. Her husband has MS and she realized she wasn't going to be able to handle things alone.
The agency sent a caregiver in from 8 to 4, five days a week for the first year-and-a-half.
"Whatever I needed, she was there," says Christie. "It was such an incredible resource for me."
Executive director Holly Puckall says the board is making its first attempts at fundraising because, while their revenues have flatlined, their expenses continue to grow. All of their funding is tied to specific programs, so there's no extra money to meet emergency needs.
They needed to install a new phone system recently. It came with a $45,000 price tag. The Winnipeg Foundation helped with most of those costs.
"We don't have a building, we don't have anything we can mortgage," says Puckall.
What they do have are scores of programs helping Winnipeggers in need. There is in-home family support, like Valerie Christie received. There are "parent coaches" who step in when parents need urgent help with their kids. They run six family centres in Manitoba Housing projects where kids can come for breakfast or homework help and parents can connect with community resources.
There are dedicated programs for new Canadians and schoolchildren. The idea is to give people a hand when they need help.
"The community of Winnipeg is an interconnected community and we need to be there for each other," Puckall says. "You never know when you might need help."
Family Dynamics is looking for altruistic people.
"Why is this your problem?" says Puckall. "This person is in Winnipeg. Doesn't it matter that this person is hungry or struggling?"
Rhonda Chegus, program director for the Counselling, Families & Schools Together program, says Canadians are often unaware of the needs in their own communities.
"People are isolated. They may not understand the language. They may be affected by the trauma of war. They're doing their best as parents. We need to support those efforts."
If you'd like to make a donation to Family Dynamics or think you could use their services, call 204-947-1401 or go to the website at familydynamics.ca.