Coming full circle

Health, Wellness & Recreation

Photo: Vicki Catagas just prior to her weekly sharing circle at St. Matthews Maryland Community Ministry, which is a member of 1JustCity.
1JustCity unites community ministries to support clients, aim for self-sufficiency.

Fifteen years ago, Vicki Catagas found the assistance she needed at a community ministry in the West End. Now, she is giving back to the organizations that helped her by hosting weekly sharing circles. 1JustCity is working to ensure local community ministries like this one are able to support clients and work towards self-sufficiency.

“This is where it starts.”

Vicki Catagas walks around a circle of chairs in a brightly lit church basement in Winnipeg’s West End. She offers everyone tobacco and guides them through a smudge ceremony.

This is a first for many of the participants, but Ms. Catagas is warm, friendly, and accepting. Each gift of tobacco is burned, and she directs the smoke with a single eagle feather to every participant, to drive away negative energies and restore balance. This is how the sharing circle begins.

From here, participants share and discuss issues they are facing to learn about and improve their mental, emotional and spiritual health. It’s a practice Ms. Catagas relearned thanks to the St. Matthews Maryland Community Ministry, and that has helped her on her journey of truth and reconciliation.

Ms. Catagas has hosted weekly sharing circles for more than a decade. Since 2008, she’s helped hundreds of people at four community ministry outreach sites in Winnipeg: St. Matthews Maryland in the West End, Oak Table in Osborne Village, North End Stella, and West Broadway.

The four sites are under the umbrella of 1JustCity, a partnership formed by Winnipeg Presbytery in 2015 to help member ministries in Winnipeg address decreased income from the United Church at the national level, and increased demand for services at the grassroots level. Together, these sites serve about 700 people each week with more than 40 different programs, including literacy, art, and music – all focused on people creating an identity for themselves.

1JustCity handles fundraising and awareness-raising on behalf of its members and helps reduce administrative workload and duplication. The Winnipeg Foundation provided three years of bridge funding for 1JustCity, in support of its goal to be self-sufficient by 2019.

1JustCity’s mandate is to ‘actively love the under-loved.’ Its member ministries give people a place to feel a human connection and receive the support they need, whether that is a healthy meal, a shower and clean clothes, or spiritual support, such as participating in a sharing circle.

Ms. Catagas is helping 1JustCity achieve this goal through her sharing circles, but 15-years ago she was the one in need of a helping hand. When her sons were five and three, Ms. Catagas was feeling lost, and realized she wanted to reconnect to her Indigenous culture. She started going to programs at St. Matthews Maryland Community Ministry.

“I had to reconnect,” says Ms. Catagas. “That’s why I started volunteering, because I lost a connection to the culture, the language, the understanding of the land, the protocols of approaching an Elder, and the protocols of a sharing circle. I had to go back and relearn. It started with the community resources here.”

Now, Ms. Catagas serves dozens of participants each week with her sharing circles and is truly making a difference in many lives. She helps educate participants about Indigenous culture, and guides many on their truth and reconciliation journey.

“Being in the ’60s scoop, I never had a family. Mother and father were separated, and all that. It’s been a broken home since,” says Ms. Catagas. “So I’ve stayed here. This is my family in this community. I just want to give back, now that I’ve come from the darkness to the light.”

Ms. Catagas’ own journey is ongoing, but she credits 1JustCity, and the opportunity to host the sharing circles, as an integral part.

“We’ve made a difference in people’s lives,” says Ms. Catagas. “It’s a tradition. It’s our culture. We’re doing it in a circle and venting how we feel. The power of that circle is working. The healing is starting to begin.”

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, Executive Director of 1JustCity, helps Ms. Catagas organize and maintain the sharing circle.

It’s always great to see folks that have come in to access services at a 1JustCity site stop needing them,” says Mrs. Blaikie Whitecloud. “When they come back to be donors and when they come back to be volunteers, it’s amazing – having someone who used the services now on the staff team is definitely heartwarming. We’re happy to see Vicki succeed and now work to help others do the same.”

The resources available through 1JustCity exist because there is a need, but Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud hopes that some day that need will no longer exist.

“At 1JustCity we hope every day that we’re working ourselves out of a job, that soon people won’t be hungry, or homeless in winter, or without someone to listen and support them, but until that day comes we’ll be here,” she says.

This story is featured in the Summer 2018 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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