Finding our Voice through an Affiliate Model

The Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations is looking at enhancing services to the non-profit sector and funding those enhancements through a voluntary, paid affiliate model. MFNPO is currently funded as a sector council by the provincial government. As a sector council, MFNPO is funded to focus exclusively on training and skills development for the non-profit sector.

“We’ve had some comments from non-profit organizations about providing more services,” says MFNPO Co-Chair Sandra Oakley. “I think there is a very real appetite in the sector for more programs to help non-profits and their leaders to perform better.”

With limited funds, MFNPO can only offer so much, says Oakley, so MFNPO is exploring the possibility of asking non-profits to pay a $100 affiliate fee to access a wider range of services while bolstering the Federation. “The model would be similar to the Manitoba Federation of Labour or the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce,” says Oakley. “MFNPO would be underpinned by a network of strong and engaged non-profits of all sizes.”

In October, MFNPO circulated an email survey to gather input from the sector about what services could be offered. Oakley expects that the results will validate current ideas and unearth some new ones. “We want to be able to provide more educational programs like ‘lunch-and-learn’ sessions that will reach broader audiences,” says Oakley. “We want to be seen as a primary source of information and education for people in the non-profit sector. To do that successfully, we need to offer more programs throughout the year.”

It is also expected that affiliates will have access to special events, access to expert advice, and will enjoy reduced fees on certain training programs. Oakley also believes that a sustainable affiliate model will help MFNPO serve as a more credible voice in the community.

“With the resources generated by the model and the sense of renewal we will feel as a Federation, we can represent the sector and advocate on its behalf more effectively,” says Oakley. A voluntary paid affiliate model, if advanced, will launch some time later in 2018.

“We’re excited about this initiative because if we’re successful, we will be a stronger voice for the sector,” says Oakley. “The non-profit sector is changing rapidly. The affiliate program will help turn many non-profits into active participants in keeping MFNPO nimble, responsive, and increasingly relevant.”

A Fundamental Impact

Clayton Robins knew the change was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“The Department of Agriculture transferred some responsibilities to us a couple of years ago,” says Robins, Executive Director of the Manitoba 4-H Council in Brandon. “We knew it was coming and we had time to plan, but when your staff grows from two people to seven people in under two years, it’s a big change.”

Robins suddenly found himself spending far more time on human resources issues than ever before. “We needed some help in understanding how to manage the people in our organization,” he says. “We absolutely needed to spend more time on HR and I wanted to learn how to use that time effectively.”

So, Robins and his Office Manager enrolled in the Brandon session of the Fundamentals of Human Resources course offered by the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations. The course is a recurring six-module program that has been delivered to full houses in Winnipeg, Brandon, and Thompson. It will be offered again in Winnipeg in January 2018, and in Brandon over three days in January–March.

For Robins, the course helped him advance HR practice at 4-H almost immediately, particularly around the issues of employee evaluation and conflict management. “The course was great. The instructor (Janice Goldsborough) welcomed questions and dialogue,” says Robins. “Much of the learning was peer-to-peer and now I feel I have a network down the road.”

John Hutton had a similar reaction to the course he took in Winnipeg in 2016.

“At a small agency like ours, there isn’t a separate person handling HR. That falls to me,” says Hutton, the Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba. “I’ve never had any HR training, so the course helped me clarify and sharpen some of the HR things we’ve been doing.”

Hutton, who oversees a staff of 20, says that where he felt an immediate impact was in the area of developing human resources policies for his agency. “It was a structured learning environment with opportunities for free-flowing dialogue and informal learning,” says Hutton. “I learned how to write some very coherent policy.”

Registration for the January 2018 course in Winnipeg  and the January–March course in Brandon is underway and only a few spots remain. The fee is $300 per person and registration is capped at 25 participants.

“Small organizations like ours are under pressure so it’s really nice to have resources like this available at an affordable rate,” says Hutton. “I like that it is professionally facilitated and aimed specifically at the non-profit sector.”

Fundamentals of Human Resources is based on materials originally produced by the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector, work that is now housed within Community Foundations of Canada. MFNPO and Community Foundations of Canada are collaborating as partners in this initiative in Manitoba.

The six modules that comprise the course are: Policy Framework and Employment Legislation; Getting the Right People; Managing People and their Work; Health and Safety – Workplaces that Work; Training, Learning, and Development; and HR Planning and Wrap-up. The course will be held on January 10, 11, and 12, with two modules covered per day.

Learn more about the program and registration on the MFNPO website.

A Badge of Knowledge

A Winnipeg non-profit is dipping its toe into the waters of open badges, an increasingly popular system for recognizing professional development.

“We’re overfilling our workshops,” says Diana Rozos, Manager of Family and Child Care Resources at Family Dynamics. “I didn’t have to do much marketing to our students. There is a novelty factor here, too. Our participants are thrilled to help us pilot something new.”

Family Dynamics is using open badges as digital certificates to recognize learned skills and participation in their professional development program for licensed home-based childcare providers. Learners can receive badges in three different categories (Theory, Applied Learning, and Special Events) as well as Milestone and Leadership badges for participation in workshops about outdoor play, communications, and more.

“Most of our clients are new Canadians eager to learn and eager to succeed in their business,” says Rozos, who is implementing the badge program with the help of Margerit Roger of Eupraxia Training. “When they get a digital badge, they can display it on LinkedIn, Facebook, in an online ‘passport’, in their email signature, or on their own personal website. They can also print a version for display in their childcare space. The badge tells their clients and prospective clients that they care about professional development and lifelong learning.”

MFNPO is also experimenting with open badges to advance skills development in the non-profit sector by issuing them for successful completion of its Fundamentals of Human Resources program. To earn the badge, participants must complete the program and all the assignments, including the development of HR documents for their workplaces.

“Open badges are a good way to recognize specialized learning,” says Don Presant, President of Learning Agents and a consultant to MFNPO. “They recognize that learning today takes place in different ways, in different places, and through different media. When communities change and technology changes, the world needs ways to promote and recognize people’s efforts to keep pace.”

As open badges become more widely understood and embraced in Canada, the entire system will become increasingly credible and robust.

“Any organization can equip themselves with a badge system for its employees to recognize training and development,” says Presant. “There is plenty of evidence to support the notion that striving for and earning badges inspires and energizes employees and helps employers develop needed workforce skills.”

This video explains more about open badges and how they work.

“We run professional development programs, anyway,” adds Diana Rozos. “The badges initiative compels us to be more rigorous and more innovative in what we offer and in how we deliver it. It doesn’t only help the person who is participating, it enhances the organization offering the badges.”

To learn more about MFNPO’s discussions about open badges, contact the MFNPO office at or (204) 272-6088.

The Canada Summer Games: Short-term Staff; Long-term Impact

Your non-profit organization might operate on a five-year strategic planning cycle. The Board might have a long-term planning committee and you probably hire employees you can train, nurture, and shape for the future. And, hopefully, you have succession planning on your mind.

So how would you manage an organization that’s only supposed to be around for a couple of years – a non-profit pop-up designed to meet a short-term need? That’s the challenge faced by Jeff Hnatiuk, President and CEO of the 2017 Canada Summer Games Host Society.

“Even though this is a short-term enterprise, we recruited with the spirit of building capacity for the future,” said Hnatiuk, the long-time President and CEO of Sport Manitoba, seconded for the Canada Summer Games. “We were looking for younger employees along with a few more experienced people who could serve as mentors.”

While a few employees were actively recruited – particularly those with some experience from the 1999 Pan-Am Games and other major events – about 90 percent of the 65 staff positions were filled through an open process. Many hundreds of people applied for jobs that would only last from a few months to about four years.

“I think people who applied knew that this was a very special major event and they wanted to be a part of it,” said Hnatiuk, who has worked in sports administration since 1986. “They also know that if the games are a success, their job here will look great on a résumé.”

Hnatiuk also notes that that the workforce has changed over the years and “people aren’t afraid to take on a short-term assignment.” There is a lot of mobility in the workforce, he added, and “there are people who choose careers in sports administration. After the Pan-Am Games in ’99, there were people who took assignments with other games, including the Olympics. The Canada Summer Games offers the same opportunity.”

That all said, in an organization with a short lifespan there are some HR challenges, especially retention.

“We’ve hired great people so it’s no surprise that some of them entertain other opportunities while they work here. After all, their jobs will end soon,” he said. “We have lost a few people along the way.”

For Hnatiuk, retention is best supported by fostering enthusiasm for the event itself. The excitement can take on a life of its own, creating a sort of shared community adrenaline. “The motivation to excel and to stay through the hard work, long hours, and strict deadlines is the belief that we are doing something very special for the community – something with a remarkable, long-term impact,” said Hnatiuk.

He also notes how important it is to create short-term goals and targets around which people can rally – whether that means hitting volunteer recruitment targets, securing accommodations for over 4,500 athletes and officials, achieving ticket sales goals, and a number of other benchmarks.

“The importance of having short-term, measureable goals is an important take-away for me and something that any organization can benefit from,” he said.

The Canada Summer Games – celebrating its fiftieth anniversary – are expected to generate over $150 million in economic impact in Manitoba. The Games have attracted nearly 6,000 community-minded volunteers, and are certain to create new fans and admirers of amateur sport – something very close to Jeff Hnatiuk’s heart.

“I see amateur sport as a social good,” he said. “Not only does participation in sport make us physically healthier, but it is also an exceptional way to welcome newcomers to Canada and strengthen the community. I see the Canada Summer Games as a celebration of everything that is great about sport.”

The 2017 Canada Summer Games run July 28 to August 13. For more information, visit

Bringing Workforce Development Up to Code

Pablo Listingart first learned about Winnipeg while watching the 1999 Pan-Am Games on television in his Buenos Aries living room. He didn’t dream of living in Winnipeg at the time. Today, he wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. And he wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

The 36-year-old information technology expert runs his own web design company, but his true passion is Comunidad IT (ComIT), the non-profit organization he launched with partners in Argentina and has recently launched in Manitoba. ComIT’s mission is to help young people and marginalized populations learn computer skills – especially coding – to meet the needs of the changing workplace.

Listingart had the idea of launching ComIT while working for Microsoft in 2007 as an “academic evangelist.”

“My job was to travel around Argentina promoting the merits of Microsoft products to professors and students,” he says. “What I learned in my travels is that colleges and universities could not keep up with the economy’s demand for people with IT skills. There were young people who wanted the training, but didn’t have access. Either they couldn’t afford the education, or they lived too far away, or they had to work to help support their families.”

Listingart ultimately spoke with a few colleagues about the problem and together they launched ComIT in 2012. They designed a focused, market-driven curriculum that they could deliver without a fee for the students. For the first while, they covered their own expenses out of pocket and promoted the free classes on their own.

“We would walk through public parks handing out fliers to young people who we thought might benefit,” he recalls. “We also promoted our courses on social media.”

In short order, Listingart and his colleagues had developed nine three-month courses, students were signing up, and the IT world took notice.

“We got funding from Microsoft, Google, and other companies,” says Listingart. “More important, our graduates were getting jobs. Our first course had 10 students and eight of them found work. Our next group had 13 graduates, and 10 got jobs. It was very satisfying.”

ComIT recently expanded to Chile and is still going strong in Argentina – over 1,000 students have taken courses so far. But while Listingart and his colleagues were taking ComIT to new heights in South America, he and his wife (Solange) were considering a new home.

“We were ready for a change of pace from life in Argentina,” he says. “We considered Europe and the U.S. and it wasn’t the right fit for us. We started to look at Canadian cities and I came to explore Winnipeg. The morning I woke up in a bed-and-breakfast and experienced the silence of the city and heard the trees outside my window, I said: ‘Yeah, this is the place.’”

As soon as Listingart arrived for good in 2015, he started learning about how he could set up ComIT in Manitoba to try to replicate the success the organization was enjoying in Argentina. ComIT’s incorporation as a non-profit was approved in October 2016 and the ink is still drying on the application for charitable status.

“There are similar needs in Canada as there are in Argentina and all over,” he says. “Employers need skilled developers and coders. The schools can’t keep up with the demand, and there are plenty of driven young people who don’t have access to the training. There are people being left behind and they don’t have to be. I have no doubt that ComIT can make a difference in Manitoba and across Canada.”

So far, the Canadian version of ComIT has run one course in Kitchener, Ontario, that included participants from Dubai, Kenya, Pakistan, and other countries. In June 2017, Listingart will be training a group of students through the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba in Winnipeg, ComIT’s first local assignment.

Listingart has embraced community life since arriving in Winnipeg. He serves as Vice-President of Whyte Ridge Community Centre, coaches his son’s soccer team, and is a new Board member of the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations. He is a networking ninja passionate about ComIT’s potential for the economy, for the community, and for the participants.

“There is no better feeling than getting an email from a student thanking me for the course and telling me they got a great IT job,” says Listingart. “I look forward to getting notes like that from Winnipeggers very soon.”

For more information about ComIT, visit

English at Work…Works!

The English at Work program is positioning new Canadians to solve an old problem for St.Amant.

“High staff turnover is a challenge that we face here and throughout the sector,” said Jennifer Rodrigue, ‎Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at St.Amant. “Working with children and adults with developmental disabilities is rewarding work, but it doesn’t pay very well so many staff don’t stay long. We are often looking for people.”

At the same time, St.Amant has enjoyed great interest from new Canadians looking for volunteer and paid opportunities when they settle in Manitoba. A large number of new Canadians work for St.Amant and about 75% of the organization’s 300 volunteers are also new Canadians. For many, volunteering at St.Amant is their first Canadian work experience.

St.Amant is a multi-faceted organization that supports more than 1,600 children and adults with developmental disabilities in over 100 community sites and homes. The staffing needs are immense and diverse.

In 2014, St.Amant partnered with Manitoba Start to offer the English at Work program to current staff and long-serving volunteers. The partnership continues today with Enhanced English Skills for Employment. The program is designed to help newcomers feel more competent and confident in the language of the workplace. So far, 62 people have enrolled in the program, including the current cohort of students. All staff born outside of Canada are eligible to participate, as are volunteers who have worked for at least 100 hours.

“We have designed a curriculum quite specific to working at St.Amant,” said Sylvia Thiessen, the federally-funded teacher of the program. “While the students become more comfortable with English in general, they are also learning the language that we use to communicate with each other in the workplace and with the people we support. They are also learning how we use English in our reporting and paperwork.”

The program can accommodate 24 students per year. They are split into two groups, each meeting twice a week for two hours. Thiessen, who has been teaching English as an Additional Language for 12 years, also schedules one-on-one time with the students to answer their questions and further their learning.

Aside from helping current staff and volunteers feel more confident in their roles at St.Amant and opening doors for advancement, the English at Work program also helps newcomers feel more comfortable in Canada, helps them meet their citizenship requirements, and helps them achieve recognition of their professional credentials in Canada, mainly nurses. The English at Work program helps to bridge the gap between the skills they have and the jobs they get when they first arrive in Manitoba.

“One of the most important outcomes that we see is that participants and graduates of the program are taking on informal leadership roles at St.Amant and enriching our workplace culture,” said Thiessen. “Many of them take on active roles at our events and in motivating others. With better English, they are increasingly confident and enthusiastic about their work.”

Thiessen and her St.Amant colleagues are increasingly confident and enthusiastic about the potential of the English at Work program to solve the HR crunch, and they encourage other organizations to look at matching new Canadians with the right training as a way to enrich their organizations.

“Newcomers choose Manitoba and they come here with passion and drive,” said Thiessen. “If you respond with grace, understanding, and the right support, your organization will benefit.”

For more information about St.Amant, visit

Regina DaSilva-Gibbons: Making a Difference Today

Regina DaSilva-Gibbons, the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson, thinks she might have gravitated toward “people-intensive” work because at one point in her life she felt helpless.

She recalls a childhood punctuated by frequent trips to the psych ward to visit her struggling father, who battled schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He ultimately took his own life when DaSilva-Gibbons was only seven.

“I was too young at the time to fully understand,” says DaSilva-Gibbons, who grew up in Winnipeg’s Weston neighbourhood. “I came to realize and understand over the years that he wasn’t weak, he was sick.”

DaSilva-Gibbons, now 49, remembers with fondness and gratitude the teachers who helped her cope with her feelings of grief and confusion. “The suicide happened when I was in grade two. My grade one teacher saw me sitting on the steps one day and I have a vivid memory of telling her that my dad had killed himself. She stayed connected and checked up on me for years after that,” says DaSilva-Gibbons. “There were others, too. I always had someone to talk to.”

Today, DaSilva-Gibbons returns the favour in her job. At the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson she sees kids in distress all the time. She tries to be a source of comfort to kids whose pain seems all too familiar to her.

Her personal story gives her credibility in the eyes of the youth she serves. She doesn’t just sympathize, she can truly empathize.

“Mental health issues run rampant in my family, and it wasn’t just about suicide,” says DaSilva-Gibbons, who takes anti-depressants to manage her own condition. “I know what it is like to grow up without expectations. I know what it’s like to be abused. I know what it’s like to be poor. The older kids here know that I feel their pain at a deep and authentic level. They know that I’ve been there, done that, and have come to terms with the horrible parts of my youth.”

What drives DaSilva-Gibbons today is her desire to help the kids of her adopted community in Thompson to deal with the strife in their lives.

“A lot of these kids don’t have it so good at home,” she says. “The Boys and Girls Club aims to provide a stable, compassionate environment with nutritious food, programs, and life skills training. We give these kids first chances, second chances, and third chances. We try to give them hope.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Thompson serves about 500 different children a year through after-school, weekend, and summer programs. On busier days, DaSilva-Gibbons and her colleagues might see 100 different kids.

The population they serve is mostly aboriginal, says DaSilva-Gibbons. “The community is still living with the consequences of the Sixties Scoop and the residential school system,” she says. “Some of these kids don’t feel like they have a heritage to hold on to. The community was decimated. The kids don’t feel fully aboriginal, and they don’t know how to fit into the rest of Canada. It’s challenging for them.”

DaSilva-Gibbons moved to Thompson in 2014 when her husband accepted a position at a mining company after they had previously lived in Beausejour and Winnipeg. DaSilva-Gibbons eagerly accepted the position at the Boys and Girls Club after the move north. She had worked as a waitress in her younger years and then worked with an agency helping adults with developmental disabilities to find employment. Through it all, she earned a psychology degree from the University of Winnipeg and is working on attaining her human resources credentials through Red River College.

The job in Thompson is stressful, she says, but she works with a small staff she trusts and admires. “We see a lot of sadness and despair,” says DaSilva-Gibbons. “But there are many ‘miracle moments’ that make it all worthwhile.”

And so, Regina DaSilva-Gibbons has traded the helplessness of her own childhood to a position where she can help children today find hopefulness: “This is very important work and we have to do it well. It is necessary for the kids, and it is necessary for the community.”

To learn more about the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson, visit

Building the Next Generation of Non-Profit Leaders

The Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations is eager to answer those questions by inspiring youth and young adults to pursue careers in the non-profit sector. A first step in achieving this important objective is the launch of the Career Explorations website.

“The site will be an important way to engage youth, new graduates, and young professionals,” says Meaghan Morrish, the MFNPO Project Manager leading the development of the site. “We want them to see that they can orient their careers in a way that will make a difference in the community, while challenging themselves to grow professionally in a thriving sector.”

At MFNPO’s November 25 annual general meeting, attendees got a sneak peek at the website. The site will be formally launched by spring 2017 with a special in-person event and strategic social media announcements.

“We realize as a sector council that we need to promote the many merits of working in the sector,” says MFNPO Co-Chair Martin Itzkow. “Our sector is continually changing and there are always new and creative ways for people to build meaningful careers. Career Explorations will be the leading source of current information for youth and young adults in Manitoba.”

Morrish, who has been working on the site for about a year, says the site will expose users to the vast array of career opportunities in the field. To develop the content, she has relied on MFNPO’s rich bank of labour market research, meetings with non-profit organization leaders, and interviews with people who work in the sector. She then started to develop stories about people who work in the sector and descriptions of the work they do.

“We are trying to publish stories that will truly resonate and inspire,” says Morrish, who has worked as a professional and volunteer in the non-profit sector. “We will be highlighting interesting programs and organizations and making it clear that a career in the non-profit sector can be rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting.”

For MFNPO, the Career Explorations project has the potential to strengthen the sector as a whole. “By sharing information about careers in the sector and by emphasizing the many opportunities that exist for young people, we will ultimately support our sector’s recruitment and retention efforts,” says Itzkow.

For Morrish, it will be important to measure success. “We will measure web traffic, of course,” she says. “But our most important indicators of success will be seeing more youth showing interest in careers in the sector and more organizations finding the people they need to serve their clients. In other words, Career Explorations will be successful if it can contribute to building a more resilient sector in Manitoba.”

The Career Explorations project is funded by Manitoba Education and Training (Industry Services; Workforce Development and Income Support; and Jobs and the Economy).

MFNPO: The Voice of the Sector

People who don’t work or volunteer in our sector are often amazed to hear the numbers. Even people who DOwork or volunteer in the sector are often taken aback. There are roughly 8,000 non-profit organizations in Manitoba collectively employing about 100,000 people. It’s a significant proportion of the province’s workforce.

“As a sector council for Manitoba’s non-profits, our key objectives are to strengthen the sector, ensure its long-term effectiveness, and enhance how it is perceived by government, other sectors, and the population at large,” says Sandra Oakley, Co-Chair of the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations (MFNPO). “We aim to be the sector’s voice.”

MFNPO’s roots go back to 1998 when current MFNPO Co-Chair Martin Itzkow initiated a process to enhance the visibility of the non-profit sector in Manitoba. This led to the launch in 2000 of the Manitoba Voluntary Sector Initiative (MVSI). Under the MVSI, Itzkow was the founding director of the Secretariat on Voluntary Sector Sustainability. In 2004, the sector came to be represented by a new body called the Voluntary and Nonprofit Sector Organization of Manitoba, which became MFNPO in 2009 when it was declared a sector council through a government Order in Council.

Today, MFNPO focuses its efforts on a few key areas.

“One of the most important functions we perform is labour market research,” says Oakley. “The provincial government has turned to us over the years for labour market information. No other body in Manitoba has the data or insight that MFNPO has.”

Oakley notes that one of the key benefits of gathering, assessing, and reporting data is that the effort can move the sector toward greater standardization and consistency.

“As we learn more about the sector and how people are employed within it, we can promote and see movement toward standardization of job titles, job descriptions, pay ranges, credentials, etc.,” says Oakley. “This is important so people can plan for and make lateral and upward moves in the sector. We want to create the conditions for talented and passionate people to have meaningful, long-term careers in the sector.”

Another important function of MFNPO is to provide reasonably priced and practical human resources training for people working the sector.

“We know that it is luxurious for most small and medium-sized non-profits to have a human resources leader on staff, and yet it is a critical function,” says Oakley. “Typically, HR issues are handled by the executive director off the edge of the desk. Our programs help executive directors and other leaders manage HR as effectively as possible.”

The demand for this work is evident. For 2016-2017, MFNPO has been offering a six-part course called “Fundamentals of Human Resources” in three locations. The Winnipeg and Brandon courses sold out quickly. Registration for Thompson is still underway at time of writing. Additionally, MFNPO’s Human Resources and Leadership HUB is on its third cycle, providing a small group of non-profit leaders with intensive training.

Other exciting initiatives under development include the Career Explorations website, launching in 2017 and designed to position the sector as an exciting and meaningful career choice for youth and young adults; and MFNPO’s ongoing pilot of Open Badges as a way to promote innovative and exciting professional development pathways in the sector.

On top of all the work to develop the sector, MFNPO also advocates on the sector’s behalf and takes part in national conversations about the sector’s value to society.

MFNPO employs an Executive Director and an Administrative Coordinator, and engages a handful of external contractors. As a member of the Alliance of Manitoba Sector Councils, MFNPO shares some additional services with the other sector councils located at 1000 Waverley Street. MFNPO is funded by the Government of Manitoba and operates on a budget of about $220,000. A very active Board drives MFNPO’s agenda.

“This is a passionate and dynamic sector,” adds Oakley. “We have seen growing interest in our work and our mission and we are communicating more and innovating to meet the sector’s appetite for knowledge, training, and growth.”

Kelly Holmes: Right people, right places, right time, right options

For Kelly Holmes, Executive Director of Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), success is about bringing together “the right people, in the right places, at the right time, with the right options.”

Thanks to the right people in her life, she says, she chose a positive path. She credits the strong role models she had – the mentors and coaches who believed in her – for helping her find her feet…literally.

“In grade 8, I was caught smoking a joint in the bathroom at Gordon Bell,” recalls Holmes. “One of the school’s athletic coaches caught me in the act and I just booked it. I ran out of the bathroom and down the hall as fast as I could. The coach had some choices about what to do and eventually said, ‘If she can run that fast, I want her on the track team.’ And that’s where it all started.”

Track led to basketball, volleyball, and swimming. “Sports deterred me from making some bad choices,” she says. “More important, sports taught me about hard work, team, commitment, loyalty, adaptation, and more. These are the values I learned from my coaches, and these are the values that my staff and I share with the youth who come to see us at RaY. My coaches redirected me and gave me options. That’s what I try to do in my work.”

Through a leadership course at Gordon Bell High School, Holmes earned her Bronze Medallion at Sherbrook Pool which gave her the credentials to work as a lifeguard at neighbourhood wading pools for three summers, until she was 18.

Working at the pools – not to mention growing up with a bunch of brothers – taught her how to handle kids making bad decisions. Her ability to communicate with kids and redirect them was noticed pretty quickly by people in the community. Not only was she asked to take on wading pool assignments in tougher neighbourhoods, she was invited by community agencies to come on board as a casual worker doing street outreach and other community work in the inner-city. She dove right in, even while starting to attend university in pursuit of a degree in recreation studies.

“I had planned a conventional career path, but all of these interesting and rewarding opportunities started to come my way and I started to rethink my plan,” says Holmes. “I was starting to get this well-rounded exposure to issues facing youth-at-risk.”

She hasn’t had a CV in 25 years, but if she did, it would show stops at West Central Community Program, Children’s Home, Northwest Child and Family Services, Macdonald Youth Services, among other agencies working with marginalized youth and adult populations throughout Manitoba. By 2002, she had taken a full-time position at the Winnipeg offices of Operation Go Home (OGH), a national body working to repatriate runaways with their families. When she started at OGH, they were working with 80 kids a year in the city – a number that quickly started to decline.

“A lot of the kids were starting to tell us that they didn’t want to go home, that they felt safer on the street,” she says. “It was pretty clear that we needed to rebrand and re-organize.”

So, OGH merged with Powerhouse, an agency that was working with Osborne Village’s squeegee kids. Together, the two bodies formed RaY with Holmes at the helm.

RaY is an oasis for about 100 teens and young adults every day. They come in search of a hot meal, a shower, counselling, access to a computer, advice on housing and employment, health services, and simply a place to be heard and feel safe. They are treated without judgment and they are supported to the extent that resources allow. All RaY asks for in return is respectful behaviour.

“Some of our kids go missing. Some die. There is sadness in this place, but there is hope, too,” says Holmes. “There are many success stories of people who turned themselves around completely. We’ve got two people on staff here who used to be street kids using drugs.”

Holmes describes her work as “managing chaos” in the pursuit of social justice. She has a profound appreciation for the many leaders in the non-profit social services sector who soldier alongside her. She is frustrated by the layers of bureaucracy and the red tape she needs to navigate. And while she is deeply grateful for the significant generosity of Winnipeggers, she wishes she could spend a little less time securing funding. All of these things “fuel my fire,” she says.

Even after working with troubled youth in some way for over 30 years, Kelly Holmes is still passionate about the work and still up for the challenge. On more difficult or sadder days, she might recharge her batteries by tending her garden, belting out a few rock ’n’ roll tunes with her husband and their friends, or disappearing into a good book. And then she returns to RaY – the right place for so many youth in Winnipeg. A new day, a new opportunity to be that right person. Fiery. Determined. Empathetic. And hopeful.

“Without hope I am nothing,” she says.

Learn more about Resource Assistance for Youth at