August 12, 2020

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In new directions

What began as a home for destitute children in 1885 has morphed into an agency that helps thousands of people achieve their life goals every year

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Tiffany Schambach was a participant in a New Directions program when she was 16. More than a decade later, she works for the social service agency.</p>

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tiffany Schambach was a participant in a New Directions program when she was 16. More than a decade later, she works for the social service agency.

Tiffany Schambach was 16 and pregnant with her first child when she went to New Directions for the first time.

She participated in Resources for Adolescent Parents, a program at the social services agency that supports young women who are pregnant or have children so they can attend school.

Over the next three years, Schambach earned her high school diploma and learned important life skills — all in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

"(The program) made a huge difference," says Schambach, 27. "I was in an area where everyone was a mother, so I wasn’t singled out. It relieved a lot of the stress that comes with being a teen mom."

Schambach is one of the organization’s many success stories, says New Directions CEO Jennifer Frain.

"People often underestimate others or hold them back, or tell them not to dream too much," Frain says. "New Directions is about how we can help people achieve their dreams. We’re all about focusing on what (our participants) can do and how we can all work together to get them there."

With an annual budget of almost $59 million and a staff of nearly 1,000, New Directions provides myriad supports to people of all ages, including day services, 24/7 staff residential settings and independent living where staff provide assistance.

The organization, which envisions a community where all people are well and can achieve their dreams, celebrated its 135th anniversary last month.

It was founded by the Women’s Christian Union and began as the Children’s Home of Winnipeg, providing a home for destitute and neglected children. It was the first agency of its kind in Western Canada. By the 1940s, New Directions offered family therapy services in addition to housing for homeless children. In the 1970s, it began offering programs to people of all ages.

Today, New Directions’ work falls under three categories: counselling, assessment, support and prevention programs; training and education; and home services and support programs.

"Some people just need one session," says Frain, a clinical psychologist who has worked at New Directions since 2001. "We have (other) people we’ve supported in one way or another for 50 years. It’s really whatever the person needs or the family needs. There’s no box that anyone needs to fit in."

She fondly recalls one participant, who had an intellectual disability, and dreamed of being a long-haul truck driver. Some people in his life didn’t believe he could do it, but the staff at New Directions supported him until he successfully passed the test to obtain the required driver’s licence.

Years later, he returned to New Directions to share the exciting news that he had reached his goal of visiting all 50 U.S. states.

"We have programs that are full of people with amazing stories of recovery and having a better future, and going on to better things," Frain says.

She adds that she enjoys working at New Directions because it is an "innovative, creative, challenging place to work."

"I know why I get up in the morning and why I do what I do. I think everyone who works here shares that," Frain says. "The meaning of the work is not hard to find."

That’s the case for Schambach. Last year, she started work as a facilitator in the organization’s Opikihiwawin programs. The programs respond to the needs of Indigenous adoptees and foster people in all stages of their lives by providing cultural education, supports and advocacy.

The cultural supports include art classes, language classes, powwow and hoop dancing classes, as well as visits by elders.

"It’s a good environment," Schambach says. "We (create) close relationships with our participants and do a lot of activities together."

Working at New Directions is a dream come true for Schambach, who has aspired to work at the organization for many years.

A mentor at New Directions advised her to get a university degree first.

Schambach took that advice to heart. She graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a double major in psychology and criminal justice in June 2019.

"It’s really nice, because you know, at the time when you’re really stressed out about school, it can be overwhelming and you don’t really see the light at the end," she says. "Now it’s like, wow, I made it through that."

New Directions relies on government funding and individual donations.

There are three ways people can make a donation: contribute to the New Directions Endowment Fund, which is held at the Winnipeg Foundation; donate through CanadaHelps.org; or send a cheque or money order.

Frain invites anyone who is interested in making a donation to visit newdirections.mb.ca/donate for details.

"We’re never satisfied with where we are," Frain says, adding that listening closely to participants is key to the New Directions’ approach. "We’re always pushing to do better."

aaron.epp@gmail.com

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