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Feb20ThuA Salvation Army program in Winnipeg helps kids beat the streets. February 20, 2014 by Linda Leigh
Eighteen-year-old Calvin Bruyere grew up in Winnipeg's North End, where he was surrounded by gangs and drugs. “The streets are dangerous,” he says. “Programs like The Salvation Army's Midnight Challenge are more important than ever.”
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“We started the program more than two decades ago when gang violence was at its peak,” explains Cadet Mark Young, corps leader at The Salvation Army's Weetamah church. “The situation on the streets remains volatile. Pressures to join gangs are immense. In many cases, they provide young people with the only place they feel they really belong.”
Every Friday night, more than 40 young people go to hang out at the Weetamah gym and have fun playing floor hockey with friends, knowing that, for a few hours, they don't have to watch their backs.
“Everyone is treated equally,” says Cadet Mark. “While not all participants are gang members, on any given night two or three gangs could be represented. We encourage youth to find alternatives to the destructive life of the streets.”
Thanks to The Salvation Army, Calvin resisted the temptation of gang membership. But that didn't mean he wasn't affected by its brutality. At age eight, he witnessed a drive-by shooting. Home invasions, beatings and bomb threats were a part of daily life. Most recently his brother was viciously attacked.
He's had friends die from drug and alcohol abuse, and gang life. Unable to cope, he misused prescription medication. The hockey club helped him get healthy and overcome his addiction.
“Through the Midnight Challenge, youth have abandoned the gang lifestyle and become successful in other areas of life,” says Cadet Mark. “One came to the program and went on to become a construction foreman at a major work site in Manitoba. Two others starting their own logging companies on the Pacific Coast. Others now work as filmmakers, nurses and business owners.”
“There are lots of opportunities for kids to get into trouble with a bad crowd,” says Calvin. “The Salvation Army offers them an alternative so they can find hope and a future.”
(Photo: Scott Streble)