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Lifelong volunteer has sights set on new centre

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When Barry Hammond heard the old "teach a man to fish" proverb, a part of him thought "Why stop at only teaching them to fish?"

The 75-year-old Point Douglas resident, originally from Pilot Mound, Man., has spent his life trying to help the less fortunate by developing a host of educational programs, and he’s not done yet.

He’s currently trying to convince the provincial government to provide support for his latest project, an adult basic education centre which he hopes to locate in the neighbourhood. The idea would be to help fill in the educational gaps people may have and prepare them for an eventual GED level.

"We have a lot of people who move into this area from the North with say, a Grade 9 education, because most schools in the North stop at Grade 9," he said.

"I’m trying to fill in a little gap to get people ready for more education."
So far, attempts at government funding have proven unsuccessful, something he finds "troubling."

"The government just had $100-million to give to a new football stadium, so there might be a few crumbs left over for an education centre," he said.
Finding a location for the centre is also proving difficult. However, he notes representatives of the Barber House 55+ Centre on Euclid Avenue have indicated they may have room.

If he succeeds, it will be the latest of many programs Hammond has helped with since returning to Canada full-time following a long absence.

"When I came back to Manitoba in 1974, there were only 12 aboriginal teachers trained in Manitoba out of a teaching staff of 12,000," he said.

Through Brandon University he helped to found the Winnipeg Education Centre, which provided both an educational program for teachers and did social work.

Over time, the centre graduated a number of people who took the reins of various north Winnipeg facilities, including Thunderbird House, Niji Mahkwa School and the North End Women’s Centre.

"Although we called ourselves a teacher education program, we knew a lot of these people never wanted to teach, they just wanted to be enfranchised," Hammond said.

"So they earned a degree and lo and behold, they went to it . . . A lot of good things began to happen because of the Winnipeg Education Centre."

Around the time he started the WEC, Hammond relocated to Winnipeg’s Point Douglas neighbourhood, where he has remained since. Recognizing the area as one often marred by poverty, he wanted to put down roots in a part of the city where he could help introduce positive change. He said his 30-year stay there has been "marvellous."

Some of his initiatives have been small in scale. For example, he maintains a "community truck" which can be lent out to anyone in the neighbourhood who needs to transport a large load once in a while.

He’s also been involved in bigger plans, helping to found the Non-Potable and Inhalant Abuse Committee, as a response to the issue substance abuse in the Point Douglas neighbourhood.
After retiring about 12 years ago, he joined the board of Agape Table. He was on the board when its "loonie breakfast" and low-cost grocery programs were developed.

Today, he continues to volunteer with Agape Table, and also helps teach the English as an Additional Language program at Elmwood School, and has volunteered as a math tutor as well.

During the holidays he puts his large, white beard to use, portraying Santa Claus for children in inner-city schools and daycares. He doesn’t charge for kids to take a picture with him, something which he said is a small way to help families around the holidays who might not be able to spare money for pictures.

"He’s a very enthusiastic guy," said Derek Dabee, a Seven Oaks School Division trustee and a long-time friend of Hammond’s.

"Barry is the ultimate volunteer and community leader, he’s done work in several communities."

A LIFE OF EDUCATING OTHERS

Point Douglas resident Barry Hammond has a long history with education in Winnipeg, but he’s been involved in projects in other parts of the globe as well.

After leaving his hometown of Pilot Mound as a young man,  Hammond attended both the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba to study science. He later obtained a master’s degree in geophysics from the University of Western Ontario.

While there he became chair of its overseas student organization. That role led to a trip to Nigeria for what was then known as Operation Crossroads Africa in 1959, building cement steps for communities and combatting soil erosion.

He returned to Canada to teach in Toronto, although the U of W soon heard of his return and offered him a job teaching mathematics. During his tenure there, he was sent to Guyana to aid in the establishment of Guyana University.

The school ran in the evening, since the students in the university were mostly teachers and could only study at night. With his days free, Hammond travelled all over the country to teach.

It was there, in 1968, that he had his first encounter with a young Derek Dabee, now a trustee with Seven Oaks School Division and a long-time volunteer collaborator with Hammond.

"He was a visiting professor there, he taught me and was a guest speaker at my high school. Then I happened to meet him here (in Winnipeg), and we worked together volunteering," Dabee said.

Hammond spent four years in Guyana before returning to North America. He took up a job at the University of Chicago, which tailor-made an education course for him, where he could focus on a broad spectrum of topics, from the history to the sociology of education.

After three years in Chicago, at the end of a long absence from home, Hammond returned to Manitoba. He’d heard the province was trying to recruit more aboriginal teachers, and he wanted in on the work involved. He went on to help found the Winnipeg Education Centre in the 1970s, and has remained in Winnipeg since.

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