KIM MELNYK - Winnipeg, MB
How do you reach girls in a neighbourhood where trust is hard to build, where poverty and racism are everyday realities? Kim Melnyk did it by walking around a rough area in Winnipeg’s north end with a suitcase of art supplies. She sat down and made crafts with girls wherever she could find them.
This down-to-earth approach is characteristic of Kim. It was also the driving force behind the North Star Girls Club, an afterschool program that for 10 years was like a second home for hundreds of neighbourhood girls. In this “poverty capital” of Manitoba, girls are surrounded by prostitution and drug trade. At Girls Club they found healthy food, an understanding ear, and a safe place to just be. The Laurel Centre started the program to help reduce child sexual abuse, while every day the girls were solicited for sex just outside the door.
In this context, it was not easy to keep Girls Club running.
“Girls Action has given me so much support over the years – funds, encouragement, and the chance to exchange with other girls’ programs. I learned through Girls Action to truly value our work with girls, and this has stayed with me and inspires me every day.”
Kim recently reached out to Girls Action for organizational mentorship as she embarks on an initiative that could change the lives of even more girls.
The Government of Manitoba took notice of the innovative methods used by Kim and colleagues in their Outreach Network. The government is consulting with this network to reduce the sexual exploitation of girls. Kim has met with the Minister responsible for Child Protection and is active on a committee with Police, Missing Children and other outreach agencies.
“Finally we’ve got a voice that is being heard by the right people,” she says. “The Police say they are changing the way they deal with sexually exploited girls and runaways in Winnipeg, and it’s because they sat around a table with us and heard our approach. They learned to build relationships with street involved youth instead of just policing them.”
“These girls are not just victims. Their potential is endless. If girls are given the tools and the chance, they can change the world.”