'Healing through healing': Meet 2 Mama Bear Clan volunteers working to make life better for other Winnipeggers

Some of Winnipeg's most vulnerable are getting a leg up from the helping hands of two women.

Alexa Leger and Brittany Read work with North Point Douglas community patrol to give back to their community

Mama Bear Clan's Friday night patrol volunteers. (Melissa Hansen)

Some of Winnipeg's most vulnerable are getting a leg up from the helping hands of two women.

Alexa Leger and Brittany Read have found time and space in their busy lives to improve the ones of those who have experienced a more difficult path.

Bianca Ramos, who works at North Point Douglas Women's Centre where the Mama Bear Clan is based, says there are many hardworking and committed volunteers but Leger, in particular, has made a huge impact.

"She organizes, stores and finds most of the donations for Mama Bear Clan — she does all that on her on time and still finds time to come out to patrol," Ramos said.

Since the fall of 2016, the Mama Bear Clan has been going out a few nights each week, patrolling the streets of the city's North Point Douglas neighbourhood.

Not only does the group offer a safety presence, the members pick up used needles and distribute blankets and food to the homeless.

Sandwich lady

Leger, who has five kids at home, leads the Bear Clan's walks every Friday.

"It's a group that is led by women and supported by men and that is important to me," said the 29-year-old.

Besides running the Friday patrols, she washes all the donated items, puts together care packages with basic toiletries, and makes sandwiches to hand out.

"They call me the sandwich lady," Leger joked.

Smudging with Alexa Leger at Mama Bear Clan’s Friday night patrol. (Melissa Hansen)

Every Friday, after filling a wagon she uses to transport donations during the walk, Leger leads the room full of volunteers in prayer and smudges before they head out.

Everyone stands in a circle holding hands, taking a minute to get to know each other so they can help each other stay safe.

​Being a single mother of five is not always easy but Leger gets her kids involved by helping make the food and putting the packages together.

"It's good for them to participate," she said, adding she will also bring youth from her Elmwood neighbourhood to the Friday walks.

Alexa Leger preps to smudge with Mother Bear Clan. (Melissa Hansen)

​One boy, who can't be named because he is in foster care, said his care worker got him involved in the Friday walks initially by giving him $10 a week to do it, but now he truly loves it.

"It is healing through healing," he said. "I want to do more; it's really great getting to see what an impact we have."

Next Friday, Leger will try to recruit more volunteers, make more care packages, do more laundry and assemble more sandwiches.

"Her hand is almost always the first one up to help out at different events [and] meetings," Ramos said. "She just puts in a really admirable effort, goes over and beyond, and we love her to pieces."

'A life that has purpose'

Like Leger, Brittany Read is a Mama Bear Clan volunteer because she wants to give however she can.

This past year, she did a rummage sale and donated all the proceeds to the Bear Clan.

Read, 29, and her husband, Ben, also own and operate a home-share for adult men living with mental illnesses. It operates similar to a group home, where the occupants reside with Read and her husband as a transition to becoming more settled in day-to-day life on their own.

I think it's important that people just show up. There are so many people doing really great work in Winnipeg right now.- Brittany Read

The couple has three men currently living with them — two of whom have been there the entire four years Read and her husband have been running the home-share. The other has been there just over two years.

"When the newest guy came he was hurting and disconnected," Read said. "Now he has friends that he hangs out with every day. He describes a life that has purpose," she said.

Read has tried to incorporate things from her own upbringing. When she was younger, her grandmother would give her and her cousins all of their favourite treats at Christmas.

He grandmother would wrap each kid's gifts in different colours and the tree would explode with presents.

Read has carried this tradition over to her not-so-traditional family.

"These guys haven't always had Christmas like this," she said. "Everyone who wants a Christmas, deserves a Christmas."

Brittany Read says it's important to understand how colonialism is still affecting people. (Supplied)

Read, who is studying psychiatric nursing, recently hosted a blanket exercise for her classmates and faculty. She felt it was important for students training in the psychiatric field to understand the correlation of what happened in the past — in terms of colonialism — with mental health in Manitoba today.

During a blanket exercise, the leader places blankets down on the floor the represent Canada. As they go through Canadian history, the blankets are slowly removed as a representation of how settlers took land from the Indigenous people. 

Read said it's important to understand how colonialism is still affecting people.

Just being aware of that, of what people are going through, can help make a difference. But volunteering, and getting involved in some way to help improve the lives of others, can do wonders and Read encourages people to give a little of themselves.

"I think it's important that people just show up," she said. "There are so many people doing really great work in Winnipeg right now."

Changemakers is a multimedia series spotlighting the efforts and stories of everyday Winnipeggers striving to improve the lives of their neighbours. It was produced by senior journalism students in Red River College's creative communications program.