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Rossbrook House hosts immigrants and refugees

By Sherry Rasmussen and James Buchok


WINNIPEG — The youth, staff and kids who attend Winnipeg’s Rossbrook House, an inner-city drop-in centre, have a message for their newcomer friends in the neighbourhood: we’re happy you’re here and winter really can be fun — let’s experience that fun together.

That message was delivered at the first annual Cold City, Warm Hearts Winter Party, Feb. 25 at FortWhyte Alive, a conservation area and nature activity centre in southwest Winnipeg.

“Given some of the sad occurrences in our country and the world right now, we felt the time was right to reach out in solidarity to the newcomers in our community,” said Rossbrook House executive director Phil Chiappetta. “In previous years, we’ve invited our friends at IRCOM (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba) to across-cultures events, sharing traditional foods, music and dance together. That’s always been a big hit and we wanted to build on that sense of connection and inclusion for all the kids in the community right now.”

In partnership with FortWhyte Alive, Rossbrook House and IRCOM arranged for buses for close to 100 elementary school-aged children to the outdoor haven for sledding, snowshoeing, ball hockey, Inuit games — including the ever-popular blanket toss — and a bonfire and bannock bake.

“The idea is to have the kids get to know each other in a relaxed and fun atmosphere,” said Chiappetta.

“Our children are often the last people we think of when dealing with global issues of immigration,” said IRCOM executive director Dorota Blumczynska. “And yet, within their schools, on their playgrounds and in their front streets they will act, either as welcoming, curious, kind friends or remain distant and fearful of the ‘other.’ We are hopeful that with our support and through this event we can ensure that they are led by their warm hearts in our cold city.“

FortWhyte Alive is a non-profit organization that relies on the support of the community. President and CEO Bill Elliott said the centre “couldn’t be happier to open its arms and heart to these young new Canadians. Sustainable communities must be inclusive communities, and we hope this one event serves as a catalyst for more . . . hot or cold,” he said.

The party included pizza for all donated by a local Pizza Pizza franchise.

Rossbrook House was founded in 1976 and is open 24 hours a day, every day, offering a safe place to any child or young person in need. According to its website, 1,500 children and youth aged 6 - 24 pass through its doors annually, and there are up to 100 participants on a daily basis.

IRCOM is a non-profit organization that operates a transitional housing complex in downtown Winnipeg called IRCOM House Ellen. IRCOM House offers secure, affordable and clean apartments to newcomer families for up to three years after their arrival.

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