Four years ago, Kyle Mason had an idea.
Mason, who grew up in the North End, had recently returned to the neighbourhood after several years outside the city.
The former youth pastor and minister looked around the neighbourhood and decided he wanted to be part of the solution to its varied problems.
"I grew up about a block away from here," he says, sitting in his office at the North End Family Centre at the corner of Main Street and Machray Avenue, which opened in 2009.
"I come from a single parent family with two siblings, and we struggled to make ends meet as a family. The idea of going to a food bank is not foreign to me."
The centre features a community living room, telephone and computer access, laundry facilities and a clothing exchange for those in need of such services. They’re small ways to help, but Mason says they make a big difference for a community simply seeking the best for itself.
"I’m aware the North End has a reputation and it does face some challenges. But it’s also filled with tons of amazing, beautiful people who want the best for themselves, for their kids, for the community, the city," he says.
Lately the Family Centre has been working on a partnership with World Vision. Commonly known for its overseas aid projects, World Vision also works with Canadian organizations, and is currently in the first year of a five-year agreement with the North End Family Centre.
Mason says the relationship emerged from some World Vision training courses the centre’s staff took. The partnership itself will help the centre to get to the root causes of the neighbourhood’s troubles.
"We partner with our empowering families program, and that’s where our resource co-ordinator Lindsay (Giesbrecht) comes from. Our partnership with World Vision allows her to be here, and it’s her job to help people get to the root problems," Mason says.
"So often she’ll see somebody come in with a crisis situation, ‘I got kicked out’ or this or that, and she’ll endeavour to help that person out, and often does."
Mason explains that Giesbrecht also offers an opportunity to work long-term with people, helping them identify life goals and encouraging them to achieve them.
Winnipeggers can help the centre’s efforts through World Vision Gifts by giving to the "Canadian Assistance Fund" online at: https://catalogue.worldvision.ca/Gifts/Forms/Gift.aspx?giftId=1966.
The centre is a faith-based organization, but Mason says its services are no-strings-attached, and that it don’t foist religion on visitors.
"Too often (with) ministries, people blow in and blow out like the wind, and while they’re here they promise the moon. Understandably people are slow to engage a Christian-based organization. We get that, we understand that," he says.
"We’re not here to tell people that if they have a different belief system we think ours is better and theirs is worse. If people want to engage that, we’re happy to do that… But it is their choice."
Mason says he avoided the siren call of gangs in his youth by finding a sense of belonging and community in church.
The hope for the Family Centre is somewhat similar: that even when people don’t need to use the centre’s services, they come in anyway for the sense of community.
At the end of the day, it’s all about helping people overcome the problems they face.
"We’re here to build community and empower families," Mason says.