Published November 23, 2019 14:39
Gilbert Fredette’s life story is one of resilience. He credits the safety, healthy meals, mentorship and guidance he received at United Way Winnipeg partner agencies for helping him be the person he is today.
As a child, Fredette frequented a drop-in centre near his home called Youth Action Project (YAP). Located on Ellen Street, it offered Fredette and his peers breakfast each day and a safe place to play floor hockey and table tennis, and do arts and crafts after school.
Fredette’s mother spent 10 years in the residential school system and used alcohol to cope with the trauma she endured. She died in 1976, leaving Fredette’s father to look after him and four siblings.
"That must have been a monumental undertaking," Fredette says. "With the programs at YAP, it helped his burden a lot. He knew we were safe there. He knew there was programming to keep us busy and keep us positive."
In 1976, YAP amalgamated with the Youth Action Centre of North Winnipeg and became what is now the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg. Fredette made use of the hockey program and attended dances at the organization’s Freight House Club on Isabel Street.
When Rossbrook House was established around that same time, Fredette started going there, too. He utilized the Ross Avenue drop-in centre throughout his teens.
He recalls the leadership provided by Sister Geraldine MacNamara, who helped found Rossbrook House.
"It helps to understand that you’re not alone and that people do care about your situation," Fredette says. "Sister Gerry, bless her soul, was a great leader for children who needed a safe haven and direction."
Today, Fredette holds a master’s degree in Indigenous studies from the University of Manitoba. He’s currently working as a researcher for the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, and he serves as a board member at the John Howard Society of Manitoba.
From 2013 to 2018, he was a councillor and vice-chief of Norway House Cree Nation, overseeing the youth, Child and Family Services and health portfolios.
During that time, he started Chiefs at Christmas, an annual holiday meal at Winnipeg’s Siloam Mission that is served by Indigenous leaders. Last month, Fredette established Meal to Heal, a Thanksgiving dinner, in partnership with Siloam.
"I’m really happy to have overcome a lot of the obstacles in my life," he says. "I’m doing my part now to give back, and I’m very proud to do that."
Last year, United Way Winnipeg donors invested more than $700,000 in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg and more than $250,000 in Rossbrook House.
These two agencies give young people the mentorship and role modelling they need to get through school and reach their potential. Without them, Fredette says, his life would have taken a different path.
"I have always remembered the programs, staff and different organizations that gave me a foundation of self-worth, compassion and caring," he says.
United Way Winnipeg is currently in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. The organization has set its highest-ever fundraising goal: $21.6 million.
Fredette thanks people who donate.
"Giving to the United Way is worth it," he says. "I’m living proof of that."