Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wide awake in Winnipeg

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I haven't attended a sleepover in a long time. The last one, as I recall, involved a lot of eyeshadow, much mockery of pyjamas, and no sleep whatsoever.

So I didn't exactly jump at the chance to join another sleepover, not at my age, and definitely not at Portage and Main with a few dozen of my closest acquaintances (including my boss).

But Jason Syvixay of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ association made us an offer we couldn't refuse: The chance to make a change for the better.

It's Canada's first-ever "CEOs for Downtown Sleepout," a unique fundraiser and public awareness campaign designed to plunk some plucky city leaders -- everyone from the WRHA's CEO Arlene Wilgosh to U of M president David Barnard to Free Press publisher Bob Cox -- onto a downtown street the night of Sept. 29 to give them an idea of what "life on the street" is like.

We won't be squeegeeing windows, or panhandling -- ummm, per se. Well, OK, we'll be asking for money.

But your donations will go to the Downtown BIZ's program to reduce panhandling and homelessness; in fact, it is called Change for the Better.

Change for the Better began in 1992 with the goal to encourage people to stop giving spare change to panhandlers -- which might encourage them to stay on the street and/or feed an addiction -- and instead give money to the social agencies that provide work programs and support to people in need.

They include Agape Table, Main Street Project, Salvation Army, Siloam Mission, Lighthouse Mission and Union Gospel Mission.

All donations to Change for the Better go to homeless employment programs such as the BIZ and Siloam Mission's Mission: Off the Streets Team (MOST), which has been around since 2006, with participants working together to clean up areas of the inner city.

The hope is that the job builds self-esteem and self-confidence, and that the social supports give each participant a fighting chance at forging a better life, off the streets.

I know I won't learn a whole lot about eye makeup Sept. 29. I'm bringing a tuque and my sleeping bag in the hopes of discovering yet again that Winnipeggers -- from the CEOs to the guys on the street -- care about this community and its challenges. The goal is to raise $100,000 in this one night.

Please make an online pledge, if you can. There's supposed to be some kind of friendly competition at this event, but we all know Jim Carr, CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, has the ability and the connections to sweet-talk the largest wallets in this town.

But Mom? You can find me under "celebrity participant." (Yes, I thought that was funny, too.) And this time I promise, I'll try to get some sleep.

 

Margo Goodhand is editor of the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2011 A10

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