To describe Ken Opaleke as passionate is an understatement.
The executive director of West Broadway Youth Outreach (WBYO), located at 203-222 Furby St., was one of five Manitobans who were named 2013 Manitoba Heroes by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Alumni.
The other four Manitoba Heroes are Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO!) founder Michael Champagne, Got Bannock? founder Althea Guiboche, entertainer Fred Penner, and "Pennies for the Homeless" founder Owen Settee. The five winners were honoured at city hall Oct. 25 as well as at a gala dinner at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg Oct. 26.
"There were four other people (at the table that I sat at) who give so selflessly of themselves, and I am just in awe of their company and I am speechless and moved by this recognition," Opaleke said of his award.
Opaleke has been with WBYO for 22 years as of Oct. 10. When Opaleke took charge of the centre, he had to build it from scratch because it was shut down when he took the reins.
"West Broadway Youth Outreach is a life skills program that is simply camouflaged as a recreational program. Most kids come in thinking, ‘I’ll run around in a gym and play games’, when in actuality it’s a program that offers homework club, music programs, reading programs, swimming lessons, every life skill you can imagine," Opaleke said.
Opaleke said he has stayed on board for over two decades because his job doesn’t feel like work.
"It still feels like my first day because I’m that hyped to go to work. I just happen to be the person who can’t stop smiling," Opaleke said, crediting the volunteers and kids at WBYO who make the centre such a successful and joyful place to be.
Opaleke believes one reason why kids enjoy being part of the WBYO is because he makes them believe their opinions matter.
"We vote on everything. In my 22 years, I’ve never won a vote," Opaleke said with a chuckle. "I have a vote, but I have no say. As a child, it’s empowering to know that their words carry as much weight as anybody else in here."
One of Opaleke’s goals with the centre is to have 10 of the kids become doctors, and he is halfway there. Two of the kids that attended the WBYO have become doctors and have returned to occasionally tutor the current children, and three are studying to become doctors.
"I was terrible in sciences in school so when I started my centre, I thought, ‘what do I consider a profession that is hard for me?’" Opaleke said.
For more information about the WBYO, visit westbroadwayyouthoutreach.com or call 204-774-0451.