Church waking up to its calling, says inner-city worker

Article courtesy of ChristianWeek (
Written by Josiah Neufeld, ChristianWeek Staff

WINNIPEG, MB – Kent Dueck has seen the Church begin to wake up to its calling to care for the poor, but he’s not certain that it isn’t just a fad.

“I am cautious because I am not convinced that this interest is not just a fleeting concern – a kind of flavour of the week,” says Dueck. “Inner-city issues require years of input; you can’t just simply fly at the issues hoping to see change.”

When Dueck and his friend Mark Friesen started Inner City Youth Alive (ICYA) 21 years ago, the organization consisted of two motivated young men, a van which they used to take inner-city youth on camping trips and a mission statement of: “Let’s do stuff.”

Dueck should know; he’s been committed to the transformation of Winnipeg’s North End for more than 20 years.

At an October 26 banquet celebrating ICYA’s 21-year anniversary, Dueck recounted for a room full of 350 supporters stories of faithful volunteers, the rise of gangs in Winnipeg’s inner-city in the 1990s and walking through the neighbourhood after the shooting of 13-year-old Joseph “Beeper” Spence, half expecting to feel a bullet between his shoulder blades.

More than two decades after that first camping trip, ICYA runs a drop-in centre for children and teens, a weekly teen Bible study, a meals for kids program, a chopper bicycle club, a race-car building club, a work skills program, a wilderness camp and a teen mother support group.

A small church and a school for 24 children from the community also meet in the ICYA building on the corner of Aberdeen Avenue and Salter Street.

Dueck has seen plenty of change in the organization in his time, and some small changes in the community.

“I would say we have been functioning with an ever increasing sense of expectation from the community,” says Dueck, who says the organization’s vision is maturing from a “mindset of giving” to “viewing the community as having gifts to give.”

“I see our community rising up out of the ashes,” says Dueck. “I sense people’s readiness to fight back against the drug dealers, prostitution, and other oppressive factors around us. Our community actually feels like a small town where everyone knows everyone. In many ways the North End shows a true sense of community where we help each other. People in our community have time to listen, they watch out for each other, they know the importance of relationships.”

Dueck says ICYA is exploring new ideas such as developing a plan to respond to violence in the area, connecting with sex-trade workers and the possibility of supporting small business ventures.

Inner City Youth Alive is always looking for volunteers to assist with the program by serving as role models. For more information, click to contact ICYA.

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