Win­nipeg’s Kyle J Ma­son and the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre

Say Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Born and raised in Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba, Canada, Kyle Ma­son is of Ojib­way and Métis de­scent and is the son of two res­i­den­tial school sur­vivors. He is the founder of the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre, which has been a gather­ing place for North End fam­i­lies to con­nect and be em­pow­ered since 2008. In June 2017, af­ter nearly a decade as the Direc­tor of the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre, Ma­son made the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to make a shift in his ca­reer and move on, “passing the torch” and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of run­ning the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre to new staff.

2018 has been a year of change and of tak­ing on new chal­lenges. Ma­son is no longer in­volved in the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity, but re­mains a donor, men­tor and vol­un­teer. SAY was thrilled to sit down with Ma­son to find out more about his life, his new en­deav­ors and how the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre came to be.

Here is his story

Raised in a sin­gle-fam­ily home by his mother, Ma­son grew up with his brother and sis­ter pri­mar­ily in Win­nipeg’s North End. He has few mem­o­ries of his father, but he does re­mem­ber his father al­ways push­ing him and his sib­lings to be the best they could be. He also re­calls his father as a suc­cess­ful busi­ness man. They lived a pros­per­ous life dur­ing his younger years, but ev­ery­thing changed af­ter a fam­ily va­ca­tion to Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, when Ma­son was eight years old.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing fun, go­ing on rides and shop­ping, but then a strange thing hap­pened. We didn’t come back with my father. It was the end of my par­ents’ re­la­tion­ship. Af­ter he left, I re­mem­ber life rapidly chang­ing. The houses were gone, toys were gone and the next thing I re­call is my sis­ter, me, my brother and my mother all living in a two-bed­room suite in some­one else’s house. Life was just night and day.”

For many years, Ma­son and his fam­ily moved around a lot, and at times they lived with friends and fam­ily to avoid home­less­ness. “All of a sud­den we found our­selves sit­ting around the kitchen table pray­ing to make ends meet. As a child, I didn’t know how to process this.”

As years past, things got bet­ter. Ma­son’s mother worked hard to com­plete her high school di­ploma and at­tain a de­gree in so­cial work, all while work­ing and rais­ing three kids. “She was try­ing to make a bet­ter life for us, and she did,” said Ma­son. Ma­son’s mother even­tu­ally bought a house, and the fam­ily moved out of the North End.

Af­ter com­plet­ing high school, Ma­son planned on work­ing for a year be­fore pur­su­ing his post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion. One year turned into three, and, like many young peo­ple, he was lack­ing drive and fo­cus. He was stuck and look­ing for a place to be­long. Un­like his peers, he found a sense of com­mu­nity and be­long­ing in his lo­cal church youth group in the North End.

“I be­came a church nerd and at­tended youth con­fer­ences and vol­un­teered a lot. The pas­tors in the church ended up play­ing a big role in my life. Some be­came father fig­ures and role mod­els for me.”

Ma­son even­tu­ally pur­sued his stud­ies and grad­u­ated from Es­ton Col­lege in Saskatchewan, Canada, with a de­gree in bib­li­cal stud­ies with plans of be­com­ing a youth and young adult pas­tor, much like the pas­tors who had im­pacted his life. While study­ing at Es­ton, Ma­son met and fell in love with his wife Ar­lene. The pair mar­ried dur­ing his final year of school­ing and then moved to Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba, where Ma­son worked at a church in Stonewall, Man­i­toba and where he soon found out he was not quite wired to be a pas­tor like he

had planned. “It came as a huge shock and dis­ap­point­ment to me be­cause I had spent years dream­ing to do this and stud­ied years to do this,” said Ma­son. “Thank­fully, I was of­fered an op­por­tu­nity as the Direc­tor with the Dry­den Food Bank (Ontario, Canada) which was a lot of hard work but an in­cred­i­ble grow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me as a pro­fes­sional.”

Un­der his lead­er­ship, the food bank grew from a small or­ga­ni­za­tion rent­ing a small space to be­com­ing the largest or­ga­ni­za­tion of its kind in the re­gion.

New in their mar­riage and new in their ca­reers, the cou­ple found out they were ex­pect­ing and made all the prepa­ra­tions in an­tic­i­pa­tion of their first child. Life changed dras­ti­cally when the cou­ple ex­pe­ri­enced the heart wrench­ing loss of their daugh­ter. “No one saw it com­ing. It rocked us. It shook us to our core,” said Ma­son.

Heart­bro­ken, and with life not mak­ing sense any­more, they re­signed from their po­si­tions in Dry­den and sought com­fort with fam­ily in Saska­toon, Saskatchewan. “My wife took time off from work­ing, and I took a job where I could punch in and punch out. We spent time griev­ing and try­ing to fig­ure out what life was all about. We were very raw,” ex­plained Ma­son.

Af­ter a year, the cou­ple de­cided it was time to restart their ca­reers and learn how to live af­ter the loss of their daugh­ter. They moved to Win­nipeg af­ter Ma­son’s wife was of­fered a gov­ern­ment job in her field, and, oddly enough, the cou­ple moved into the same neigh­bour­hood in the North End, on the same street, three blocks down from where Ma­son grew up.

It was at that time that Ma­son de­cided he wanted to start some­thing - do some­thing in the com­mu­nity where he grew up. “The North End is a beau­ti­ful neigh­bour­hood filled with thou­sands upon thou­sands of good peo­ple who want the best for them­selves and their fam­i­lies just like any­one else, any­where else,” said Ma­son.

Af­ter com­plet­ing large amounts of re­search, it was clear that a part of Win­nipeg’s North End was dra­mat­i­cally un­der­ser­viced. A se­ries of com­mu­nity meet­ings and dis­cus­sions with peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing elected of­fi­cials, not-for-profit lead­ers and re­li­gious lead­ers in the neigh­bour­hood led to what is now known as the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre – its name de­scrip­tive of the pop­u­la­tion it serves.

The North End Fam­ily Cen­tre opened its doors on Main Street in a 1000 square foot fa­cil­ity in 2008, with no money and no gov­ern­ment grants dur­ing the largest eco­nomic re­ces­sion of our time. “It was a small army of peo­ple, team mem­bers and donors who built up the Fam­ily Cen­tre,” said Ma­son.

Af­ter nearly a decade in op­er­a­tion, the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre now op­er­ates out of a 3000 square foot fa­cil­ity and serves ap­prox­i­mately 1500 mem­bers a month.

Ma­son is now the Direc­tor of De­vel­op­ment for the Lung As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­i­toba, and he re­cently launched his own pri­vate con­sult­ing firm which con­tin­ues to en­able him to reach com­mu­ni­ties through speaking en­gage­ments and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, while aid­ing in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts. Over the last decade, Ma­son is thank­ful to have rec­on­ciled with his father, build­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship over time. Ma­son and Ar­lene are also the proud par­ents of a four-yearold boy. “He is smart and kind. He is per­fect and keeps us hap­pily ex­hausted. We are ab­so­lutely en­joy­ing ev­ery minute of be­ing able to par­ent,” said Ma­son.

I’m a firm be­liever in “noth­ing for us, with­out us”. It was my mantra while form­ing the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre.

Here are a few more fun facts about Kyle Ma­son that you might not al­ready know.

SAY: Tell us a lit­tle more about your fam­ily back­ground.

Ma­son: My father’s side is Ojib­way from Peguis First Na­tion - de­scen­dants from Chief Peguis him­self. In fact, my fam­ily has been around longer than the prov­ince of Man­i­toba. And what some peo­ple might not know is that Chief Peguis was one of the first Chiefs to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity back when Euro­pean set­tlers were here, and as a re­sult he took own­er­ship of a bi­ble which has been passed down through gen­er­a­tions to where I am now the keeper and pro­tec­tor of the bi­ble. I am hav­ing it re­stored pro­fes­sion­ally to its best shape pos­si­ble, and hope­fully later this year it will be on dis­play in the Man­i­toba Mu­seum.

On my mother’s side, I am Métis from Manig­o­ta­gan, Man­i­toba. My Métis roots go far back into the prov­ince’s his­tory, and my grand­fa­ther and his wife were co-founders of the Man­i­toba Métis Fed­er­a­tion.

SAY: Who has been one of the most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in your life thus far?

Ma­son: Lau­ren Miller. When I was at Es­ton Col­lege he was the pres­i­dent at the time and took me un­der his wing. If it wasn’t for his men­tor­ship, friend­ship and the oc­ca­sional kick in the butt, I wouldn’t be the leader and the man I am to­day. He re­ally helped me ma­ture and helped me learn how to think.

SAY: What does the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre mean to you?

Ma­son: It’s part of the com­mu­nity where I live. It’s a place of be­long­ing where there is no judge­ment - a space for peo­ple and fam­i­lies to think be­yond their cur­rent cir­cum­stance or en­vi­ron­ment, es­pe­cially if they are strug­gling in life. It is there to help peo­ple find suc­cess, no mat­ter what that looks like – it’s dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one. It is the type of place that I needed when I was young.

SAY: You have iden­ti­fied how im­por­tant your faith is to you. How does your faith in­flu­ence your life?

Ma­son: I was raised as a Chris­tian, and I choose to fol­low the teach­ings of Je­sus. It is some­thing that is very core to my be­ing and has evolved a lot over the last ten years of my life. I was raised to feel that I had to either be Indige­nous or Chris­tian. I now re­al­ize that is not the case. I am now a proud Ojib­way-Metis man who fol­lows cul­ture, tra­di­tions and cer­e­monies, and I am also a fol­lower of Je­sus. I have learned that the two are not at odds with each other, but they ac­tu­ally en­rich each other and work well together. I feel much more whole as a per­son when I am able to be my Indige­nous self and fol­low the teach­ings of Je­sus.

SAY: What do you want your legacy to be?

Ma­son: When my days on this planet come to an end, I hope I will be known as my son’s father. My big­gest gift is my son he is my legacy and the sev­enth generation of Chief Peguis.

In Jan­uary 2013, Ma­son re­ceived the Queen El­iz­a­beth II Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Medal for found­ing and lead­ing the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre. In March 2015, Ma­son was cho­sen as a CBC Man­i­toba Fu­ture 40 leader, which high­lighted lead­ers from dif­fer­ent sec­tors who are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in Man­i­toba. In the sum­mer of 2017, Ma­son was awarded a Com­mu­nity Hero Award by the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers. Ma­son was also se­lected to par­tic­i­pate in the pres­ti­gious 2017 Gover­nor Gen­eral Canadian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence.

For more in­for­ma­tion, or to con­tact Kyle Ma­son, please visit www.kyle­j­ma­son.ca.

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