FENSES: more than a breakfast program

The motto of Christian Family Centre (CFC) in Winnipeg is “church happens during the week; Sunday morning is just celebration time.” In spring 2008, pastor Elton DaSilva dreamed up another way to make church a day-to-day part of life in the Elmwood community. What emerged was a program called FENSES.

FENSES stands for fun, education, nutrition, social skills, encouragement, and support – all of which CFC and its volunteers want to offer children in the neighbourhood. When the program begins in fall 2009, 30–35 children from Grades 2–4 will be the first participants.

Volunteers will pick up local schoolchildren from their homes, serve them breakfast at the church, drop them off at school with a bag lunch, bring them back to the church after school for games, snacks, and tutoring until their parents pick them up around 6 p.m. More than just a food program, FENSES will provide a family atmosphere at breakfast, and help with social skills and schoolwork in the afternoons.

The city of Winnipeg has offered funding for the breakfast program, and the Salvation Army will provide lunches, but CFC still faces major costs (building renovations, vehicle purchase, supplies) to start up and run the program. They hope to raise approximately $15 per child per day to run the program in the first year.

DaSilva became aware of the need in his community through involvement in the local school’s parent association. He heard that children went to school without breakfast or lunch, carrying their own keys to let them into the house when they got home. Teachers complained about children with attention difficulties and behavioural problems.

“Elmwood is the forgotten ghetto,” said DaSilva, adding that gang recruitment is increasing in the neighbourhood. Through FENSES, volunteers hope to give children a place to find belonging, to provide the motivation and help to do well in school, and above all, to show the love of Jesus.

Each day, FENSES will require three cooks, five to seven workers to interact with the children at breakfast, the same number of volunteers for tutoring, and two drivers twice a day to transport the children. CFC plans to hire two full-time staff to run the program. “We’re approaching this like a business proposal; we want to do it right from the start,” said DaSilva. “We don’t want to get these kids’ hopes up only to realize our program is not sustainable.”

With a list of interested volunteers already compiled, funds are the main hurdle to launching the program, which has teachers and community social workers excited. DaSilva plans to introduce a fundraising campaign in late January.

—Karla Braun

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