Winnipeg’s best kept secret!

Lawrence “Spatch” Mulhall (arms raised) and kids inside the gym at the BNC

The Broadway Neighborhood Centre helping youth through programs and support.

Bill Burfoot

There’s a hidden gem tucked away just off Broadway in Winnipeg that many people have no idea is even there. It’s a place that’s changing lives. It’s a place that’s making a difference in their community. It’s a place that provides youth the skills and lessons they need to help them realize and achieve their dreams. This place is the Broadway Neighborhood Centre.

The BNC may be located at the very end of Young street, but for many of the people who attend their programs it’s the beginning of a new path in their lives.

A non-profit organization, the BNC provides recreational, social, health, educational, and employment training programs and services for youth in the community. Though the primary focus of the Centre is the local neighbourhood, everyone is welcome to experience the opportunities the BNC provides.

Hard at work on the outdoor rink at the BNC.

Lawrence “Spatch” Mulhall, executive director of the BNC, has been at the centre for over a decade. A musician by trade and a member of the multi-award winning band Eagle and Hawk, Mulhall came to the BNC along with Gerry Atwell 12 years ago with the building in disarray. They began writing grant proposals immediately with a vision of giving the youth in the community a place to be proud of.  Through donations and volunteers, the BNC has had a complete overhaul.

“It was nothing like you see today,” says Mulhall. “We have a new soccer field, a new hockey rink which we made shorter so we could add the community gardens and composting.  We also built a natural play space at the end of the park, a new gym, commercial kitchen, and many other renovations to try and make this place more feel like home.”

The most recent addition at the BNC is the skate park, built just over a month ago. On any given night it’s not uncommon to see dozens of kids out enjoying the new park.

Funding for these projects comes at a price, and the BNC does rely heavily on donations.

“We are lucky because we have great partners like the City of Winnipeg Community Services, Canada 150 helped us build the rink, Jenny Gerbasi has been outstanding helping us get things done in the neighbourhood,” Mulhall adds. “Without these people and countless others we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The donations also help the BNC provide some of the most unique and inspiring programs for youth in the city. With over 20 programs available from the JustTV program, Fuel4School program, sports programs, and from Juggling to nutrition programs, there’s something for everyone, and that’s something Mulhall says is very important.

“By having so many different programs, there isn’t one person who’s going to come in and say they don’t like anything that we offer.”

While there is great ethnic diversity in the community, the proportion of Aboriginal people living in the area is among the highest in Winnipeg. The demographics also tell the story that a large percentage of people in the area are experiencing personal problems related to housing and well-being. It’s is Mulhall’s hope that the BNC can provide a support to the youth who may be experiencing these issues.

“Once a young person joins our program and begins to feel comfortable, they start sharing about obstacles they’ve been facing or have faced in their life and we get to deal with it that way,” Mulhall says. “Whether it’s reading, math, or issues at home, we apply that wraparound kind of model at the BNC because a lot of our staff come from a youth care and youth services background.”

Sometimes the things that the majority of people may take for granted are not always as easy to get for some youth.  The staff at the BNC wants to make sure everyone gets the same opportunities.

“One of the things we do is help young people get bank accounts, ID, and it makes them feel like they are a part of something while realizing the true meaning of community where everybody is included,” says Mulhall. “Not being able to get a job or get direct deposit because they don’t have the correct ID or a bank account is a real problem, and we help with that.”

Homelessness is a big issue in Winnipeg, and reducing the number of homeless people in the city is something Mulhall is very passionate about. Recently, Winnipeg was the host city for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness Conference at the RBC Convention Centre. The conference coincided with the 6th Annual CEO Sleepout, an event that has raised almost $900,000 in six years. These events are very important to bring awareness to the problems, but Mulhall believes that to reduce the number of homeless people in our city, it has to start with the youth.

“When it comes to homelessness, it’s really important to take care of people, but in order to try and reduce that number is to try to stop it before it starts,” adds Mulhall. “Everyone needs to be taken care of for sure, but if you back up, the end result many times is addictions, and if you want to reduce these issues you have to start with the youth.”

Mulhall is quick to credit the staff at the centre for their high level of commitment and caring that has made the BNC a place that everyone feels welcome and believes the BNC is Winnipeg’s best kept secret.

It’s a secret that Mulhall would like to be shared.

“A lot of people, even in our own community walk by and say ‘I had no idea you were here’. I’d like people to know that we’re here and welcome them to come down and see what we’re doing.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s