Inner-city campus helps with annual community event

Photo by Ben Salnikowski

An annual holiday event, Lighting Up The Avenue (LUTA), will brighten up Selkirk Avenue once again on Dec. 6. The yearly celebration is hosted by the North End Community Helpers Network (NECHN) as a way to collectively celebrate the season as a community.

NECHN is a volunteer-based network that includes community members and representatives from different North End organizations. The goal of the organization is to share resources, build capacity, support each other, and create opportunities for those involved and for the North End as a whole.

The University of Manitoba Inner City Social Work Program (ICSWP), located on Selkirk Ave., is a member of NECHN and has an active role in supporting LUTA.

LUTA, which will take place at Ndinawe Resource Centre and attracts nearly 400 people, includes a street lighting ceremony, a free community feast, Indigenous drumming, singing, free entertainment, children’s activities, and gifts for children and Elders.

Jean Pelletier, a graduate of the ICSWP, was involved in the event for the first time last year as a part of her program placement.

Pelletier admits that she was blinded by her many tasks and responsibilities throughout the planning process and was not able to see the big picture of the event. It wasn’t until the day of the event, during the raffle draw for gift baskets, that she realized the impact of LUTA.

“As I started looking at all the people in the room that were concentrating on their raffle number, my eyes started tearing up. I realized that the majority of the people who attend this event don’t get a Christmas and a lot of them were counting on winning something to gift their loved ones. That is when I realized what LUTA was really about.”

Debra DiUbaldo, Aboriginal student advisor and counsellor at ICSWP, explained that the university’s involvement in the event has extended beyond ICSWP to the faculty of medicine (Community Health Services Department) and kinesiology, with monetary and in-kind donations.

“I think that it is vitally important for the University of Manitoba to be seen as a neighbourhood partner and one who is willing to invest in the renewal efforts and community vision of Selkirk Avenue and the North End,” explained DiUbaldo.

Moreover, DiUbaldo argued that the event illustrates the community-centred atmosphere of the North End.

“This event also plays a very important role in breaking down the stereotypical perceptions of our North End and inner-city community [ . . . ] Residents, no matter how impoverished, are given the opportunity to contribute in meaningful ways [ . . . ] North Enders, in all their diversity and uniqueness, celebrate Christmas and the Winter Solstice together, as one.”

Jenna Leskiw, community facilitator at Aboriginal Visioning for the North End, a lead organizer of the event, emphasized the attitude that community members have towards their community and how that translates towards the annual holiday event.

“It’s an opportunity to shine a light on our past successes as a collective, showcase our tremendous community pride, and light the way towards the further revitalization of the North End. The North End is the heart of our city. Celebrations like Lighting Up The Avenue, and the incredible group of people that support it, are the very definition of community.”