Kiyari’s Story

by Paige Gignac on September 8, 2020 Comments Off on Kiyari’s Story

Kiyari’s Story

Wāpahki, meaning tomorrow, is a United Way funded partnership between Chokecherry Studios, Okihtcitawak Patrol Group, and Prairie Harm Reduction, hosting a youth led talking circle and art therapy program which was co-founded by Kiyari and other community members.

“When I started high school, that’s where I started noticing a lot of this stuff. I was having a hard time with racism, transience, and mental health and addictions. Chokecherry was actually the space that myself and others came up with, and then a couple of years later we were able to make it come true. It became our break space where we get to talk about these barriers and not have to worry about what other people think about it.”

Kiyari identifies barriers with “education, mental health, transit, and racism.”  Recently, she notes, “with the pandemic there have been a lot of overdoses, and it has been difficult to access services.” Exemplified by her experiences from a young age, as she sought to provide community members with an opportunity and space where these issues could be talked about: “Before Wāpahki my friends and I would get together and talk about these barriers and challenges that we have.”

“I wanted to do talking circles for youth within the community. I saw a need in the community, because not many organizations offer programming that gives an opportunity to identify barriers and challenges that we experience,” states Kiyari.

Once Chokecherry Studios and Wāpahki were realized, a platform was created to help youth voice their concerns about inequality, modelling the experience Kiyari had when she was younger, just talking with her friends about what was happening in her life: “Talking circles have given us a platform to speak about these issues, especially with people in positions of power. A couple of weeks ago we discussed safe transit with the Mayor.” Since starting the talking circles Kiyari’s life has been changed, as it has, “given me skills, confidence, and agency to address these challenges. It also allows us to be leaders with youth in the community.”

When it comes to racism, mental health, education, and other issues, Kiyari encourages people to “Find your comfort zone, your brave space, where you’re brave enough to confront these challenges and barriers that you experience on the daily, and share your story so that other people can know that they are not alone.”

“Before Wāpahki my friends and I would get together and talk about these barriers and challenges that we have. I wanted to do talking circles for youth within the community.”

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Paige GignacKiyari’s Story

Nich’s Story

by Paige Gignac on August 25, 2020 Comments Off on Nich’s Story

Nich’s Story

Nich found a community of support for LGBTQ2S+ youth and a place to call home through a United Way funded agency.

“When I was younger, my family faced a lot of mental illnesses, and mental health struggles. That led us to becoming financially unstable. My dad ended up losing his job and wasn’t able to find work and my mom was on disability. So, there was a lot of financial struggle there, and it was quite difficult. It was to a point where my family was almost out on the street, because we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to pay the mortgage.”

Aware of the financial struggle his family faced, Nich moved in with a friend at a young age to help. “It was confusing and frustrating for me because I wanted to stay with my family for as long as I could. I have always had this dream that I would stay with my parents until I was 18 or 19, they would help me find a place, and I would move in and it would be great. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It was very confusing being away from my parents and not having much contact with them.”

Moving out at such a young age placed considerable stress and pressure on Nich, causing his studies to suffer: “My grades dropped significantly; I was not maintaining a very good attendance; it was a struggle.” In addition to the financial and familial struggles Nich faced, there was the added challenge of being a trans person and enduring daily discrimination: “Every day of my life I experienced discrimination, especially in high school. I didn’t go a lot of the days because the bullying had gotten so bad. I had actually had rocks thrown at me a number of times due to my transition. People would scream at me and tell me that I wasn’t a ‘proper person’. I also faced a lot of discrimination in the workplace. I had managed to find a job, but was fired due to being trans. They felt that I was going to bring down their income.”

Moving to OUT Saskatoon’s Pride Home provided Nich with a place to live, support, and a community of LGBTQS+ youth to connect with. “I was comfortable with transitioning when I was living rurally, but it was definitely a struggle, and I often faced thoughts like, ‘If I hadn’t transitioned, maybe life would be easier for me, and I would have more friends, and wouldn’t be discriminated against.’ When I moved into Pride Home I found quite a few individuals that appreciate me for who I am, and it has really helped me to realized that this is who I am and that’s okay”.

As Nich shares his story, he also shares this final message of hope: “Remember that it’s not always going to be as dark as it is in that place and time, and that every new day is a new blank slate. Though it may repeat, often times it is going to change for the better. It’s just taking those little steps. Even a little bit of progress is still progress.”

“When I moved into Pride Home I found quite a few individuals that appreciate me for who I am, and it has really helped me to realize that this is who I am and that’s okay”.

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Paige GignacNich’s Story

AJ’s Story

by Nicole Mulenga-Woo on March 14, 2019 Comments Off on AJ’s Story

AJ’s Story

“I should have been successful, but I wasn’t.

When I was nine or 10, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). That led to other diagnoses: generalized anxiety and depression.

Growing up, I was in the gifted program at school, but I got into shouting matches with my teachers. Things like that happened a lot. Teachers were constantly telling me to leave. Eventually, I did — I’m a high school dropout. I pretty much stopped going to school in Grade 10.

My first job was working at a fast food restaurant, where they viewed me as difficult because I wouldn’t take out the trash. My refusal to take out the trash was because of my OCD, which was germ-related and was very bad at that time. I would shower up to four times a day. I had little social life, which really hindered my growth as a person.

The OCD also made it difficult for me to get along with my family. I really love my parents. They helped me to find different doctors, but I felt like no one was listening to me.

My depression was so bad that it manifested as suicidal thoughts. By the time I was 18, it was way too much for me. I had no money. I had no education. I ended up leaving home. I would stay in the hospital for a 72-hour hold, or I’d go to a homeless shelter. I didn’t want to go home.

Eventually, I was connected with a social worker through a program that’s supported by United Way. The social worker helped me get provincial disability support and access a range of services, including counselling, housing, peer support and skill development that made me feel more hopeful about my future.

Today, I volunteer with youth as a peer support worker at the agency. It really helps me to be able to help others.

I no longer feel like a burden on society.I still work with my social worker one-on-one. We’ve looked at finding work for me and applying to schools as a mature student. It’s nice to know that people care about me and want me to succeed. That’s pretty powerful.” – AJ

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Nicole Mulenga-WooAJ’s Story

Summer Snack Program

by Nicole Mulenga-Woo on August 23, 2019 Comments Off on Summer Snack Program

Summer Snack Program

The Summer Snack Program originated in 1988 when two teachers realized that although children had access to lunch programs during the school year, they did not have access to this critical service during the summer months. They approached the Saskatoon and District Labour Council (SDLC) with this concern and the Summer Snack Program was born.

The SDLC Summer Snack Program currently provides lunches at six core neighbourhood parks as well as Agriculture in the Classroom Program sites.
Each summer the SDLC hires staff to coordinate, prepare, deliver and serve lunches, 7 days a week, during July and August. A typical lunch consists of a
whole-wheat sandwich, fruits and vegetables, a drink and a healthy snack. Often it is more than bringing lunch – the kids look forward to the friendship, leadership and stability that the coordinators provide.

United Way of Saskatoon and Area’s Summer Success Initiative – Summer Snack has provided breakfast, lunch and snacks for United Way of Saskatoon and Area’s Summer Success literacy camps since 2016. In 2018, close to 3000 meals and snacks were delivered.

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Nicole Mulenga-WooSummer Snack Program

Laura’s Story

by Paige Gignac on October 5, 2021 Comments Off on Laura’s Story

Laura’s Story

Mental Health

“When I found United Way, I was suffering from depression and anxiety. Every night, I was going to bed praying that I would not wake up the next day. But even when my depression was at its worst, I knew there must be a different life.

I am originally from Romania and back home we just don’t talk about mental health and seeking support is seen as a weakness. For years, I struggled alone and in silence. When I came to Canada, my degree was not accredited, and I had to retrain to continue my career. I am a perfectionist and I put so much pressure on myself to succeed that I lost sight of the harm I was doing to my mental health.

“I have depression and anxiety, but I’m not those labels. I think I’m capable of being much more.”

I started looking for a support group for people who were going through what I was going through. But I felt like the services I found were a little bit disempowering. They were only talking about my weaknesses. Yes, I have depression and I have anxiety, but I’m not the label and I think I’m capable of being much more.

The approach at the United Way funded agency was so different. Those classes are facilitated by people with lived experience. I felt like they were saying, ‘I know what you’re going through. I’m not here to teach you a lesson. I’m here to tell you that you can find your way back.’

My ‘aha moment’ came during one of the classes. One day, I was listening to someone’s story, and they were sharing their feelings of worthlessness. But I was like, ‘How can you think are worthless. You are such a wonderful person!’ I didn’t verbalize that; I thought it. But then I realized, maybe I’m just like this person. I’m beating myself instead of looking at the other side. Going through United Way-supported classes showed me how powerful it could be to navigate your challenges. Mental health is not something that you achieve and then you forget it—it’s something that you have to maintain. Today, I am in a much better place. I know that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. Recovery is possible and there is hope for a better, happier life.

Please give to United Way and help us keep the momentum going.

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Paige GignacLaura’s Story

Gisèle’s Story

by Nicole Mulenga-Woo on August 12, 2019 Comments Off on Gisèle’s Story

Gisèle’s Story

“Shortly after my daughter started her PhD in psychology in 2001, I noticed that she had become very anxious all the time, and was getting worse. I remember one incident in particular when she called me, paralyzed with panic, and I had to go pick her up. She was hospitalized, and after months of tests, we got the diagnosis: bipolar disorder.

I was shocked and in disbelief. I had no idea what to do. When my daughter was in a manic state, she wouldn’t sleep. She walked around constantly and lost weight. As a health care professional—I’m a retired speech-language pathologist—I knew I needed to ask for help right away. But when it comes to your own child, you feel completely powerless.

At first, I looked for help mainly for my daughter. After I found support for her, I had the time to look for support for myself. I went to an agency supported by United Way that helps families and friends of people with mental illness. I attended 10 group sessions, where I learned a lot about mental health. I gained a better understanding of what people with a mental illness are feeling. That helped me put myself in my daughter’s shoes.

I also learned how to let go. This doesn’t mean you are giving up, but rather that you accept the situation. I learned how to tell my daughter that I was exhausted and that I couldn’t always be strong. She then started paying attention to me, just like I paid attention to her. Our relationship has always been good, but this helped us communicate and work together even more.

Today, my daughter is doing much better. Bipolar disorder will always be part of our lives, but now we know how to live with it. I have been on the agency’s board for six years. After hearing the stories of the families of people with mental illnesses, I see how invaluable this assistance is for them.

As a parent, you wonder if your child’s problems are your fault, but you have to let go of the guilt and ask for help. Once you feel better, you can help others.”

“After I found mental health support for my daughter, I had some time to look for support for myself at a United Way agency.”

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Nicole Mulenga-WooGisèle’s Story

Dick’s Story

by Nicole Mulenga-Woo on March 15, 2019 Comments Off on Dick’s Story

Dick’s Story

In 1975, my late wife Doreen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Over a 15 year period she went from having a very slight limp to being totally disabled. As her health deteriorated, my caregiving duties increased.

The first time I sought outside support was when Doreen needed a wheelchair. I went to purchase one at a local store and the sales person said, “Dick, I’d love to sell you a wheelchair but why would you buy one when you can get one for free?”

He then explained how I could access a wheelchair for my wife at no cost to me. Once I was able to track down all the services and fill out all the paper work, I received a wheelchair that same day.

This was the first time I had to navigate community supports.

In the late 1990’s Doreen had a stroke. As the nurse was getting ready to transfer Doreen out of bed she said, “How do you transfer her at home?” I replied, “The hard way. The only way I know is to lift her myself.”

The nurse replied, “You know you’ll ruin your back lifting her yourself and then what’s going to happen? You’re not going home until we get a lift.” She phoned the Saskatchewan Abilities Council who delivered a lift and told me how to set it up.

This is when I got involved with the Saskatoon Council on Aging Caregiver Program.

Over the next several years I had a lot of opportunities to talk to other caregivers and found out that I wasn’t alone; I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know that these services existed or how to find them.

When I heard about 211, I was amazed. There are 5,000 programs and services listed. It would have been a godsend to me or anyone in my same situation to know that you can easily access information with this service.

I can’t even describe what a blessing knowing about 211 Saskatchewan would have been to me or to any caregiver in the community. A 211 Saskatchewan phone service would be a real help. There are still a lot of seniors who don’t have a computer, don’t have access to one, or don’t know how to use it if they do.

To just be able to dial 211 – It would be wonderful. There are some people who are still inclined to pick up the phone for information.

A significant barrier for individuals and families to accessing the services they need is the complexity of finding the information they are looking for.

Whether it is finding assistance with basic needs such as food, shelter and employment, looking for support for an aging parent, or trying to find childcare, navigating through all of the information out there can be overwhelming, confusing and ultimately a roadblock to finding support.

211 Saskatchewan can help. Currently 211 is available across the province – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – by phoning or texting 2-1-1, or searching the easy-to-use online database at Each call is facilitated by certified information and trusted community navigators.

Please give to United Way and help us keep the momentum going.

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Nicole Mulenga-WooDick’s Story

Jeff’s Story

by Nicole Mulenga-Woo on March 15, 2019 Comments Off on Jeff’s Story

Jeff’s Story

Jeff grew up in Saskatoon, in a middle class family with two sisters. After completing high school, Jeff moved on to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

As a new graduate Jeff celebrated his accomplishment by backpacking with two friends through Europe and this is when Jeff’s life changed.

Overseas his thoughts became jumbled; he was hearing voices and became extremely impulsive and reckless. Once home, he struggled to keep relationships, a safe place to live, or employment. After being arrested in a psychotic state, Jeff was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Jeff suffered countless relapses and experienced homelessness before discovering Crocus Co-op, a local mental health agency supported by United Way of Saskatoon and Area. Crocus provided Jeff with the missing pieces in his life, a safe place to make friends, a chance at meaningful employment, and a nutritious meal.

Now Jeff visits Crocus almost every day. He works part-time in the kitchen and has served as the President on the Crocus’ Board of Directors.

Jeff does not live in shame, and is passionate about breaking the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

Please give to United Way and help us keep the momentum going.

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Nicole Mulenga-WooJeff’s Story

Zoe’s Story

by Nicole Mulenga-Woo on March 14, 2019 Comments Off on Zoe’s Story

Zoe’s Story

“I played every sport when I was growing up. As I got older, I decided to focus on basketball. It was very exciting and allowed me to learn life skills. I was a social butterfly. One coach kept coming to my games and eventually, he offered me a scholarship. I transitioned from high school basketball straight into college and it completely changed my life.

My father died when I was seven, so my mom was both a mother and father figure for most of my life. But even though my mom was there, she was working hard to support us so that we could live in a decent area. Really, I raised myself.

When I was 18, my mom went to live in a different country. I had to live with my sister, who I didn’t know well. I had to become an adult quickly.

Unfortunately, I got mixed up with the wrong friends, which led me to getting into trouble. After that, I was incarcerated for a year and a half.

I was so devastated making that first phone call to my coach. I said to him, “I don’t want to lose everything.”

I was scared about going to prison. Prison is a really challenging environment full of uncertainties. The only people you have to talk to are the inmates that you live with. But this experience changed my perspective. It showed me there are people in prison who have potential and just need a helping hand. I learned skills that I never thought I could, and I used that time to rethink my life.

When I got out, it was ve