In 2011, Lucas Stewart started a movement in Winnipeg’s North End; a movement that is not only still alive, but is now stronger than ever. That year, he started Manitoba Green Retrofit, a not for profit social enterprise that, on the surface, renovates and repairs where people live, but actually helps repair and build people’s lives.
While in a previous job with Child and Family Services, Stewart recognized that life would be hard for the kids he saw on a daily basis and wondered what he could do to help. What would it take to help the parents of these kids and maybe help put families back together.
“What provides stability in people’s lives?” asked Stewart. “Jobs; they provide confidence and success, and dramatically increase a person’s self worth.” Stewart recognized that without jobs, people wondered where they fit in, and that’s when they would begin to lose hope and perhaps succumb to the lure of gang life.
Stewart saw an opportunity and through MGR, he began providing an entry into the labour market that would not otherwise be available. Over 35 workers are now trained and employed in construction and renovation skills, providing key services to clients like Manitoba Housing. MGR offers a range of services that are designed to meet market conditions and demands. Most employees have children, so the jobs MGR takes on are generally Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, in order to support maintaining a strong family life. Assiniboine Credit Union has been there since day one. “ACU has the same values that we have here,” said Stewart. “We went to them first, and we’ve been with them every step of the way.” ACU supplied the mortgage for the office space and continues to supply a line of credit based on monthly receivables.
What provides stability in people’s lives? Jobs; they provide confidence and success, and dramatically increase a person’s selfworth.
Stewart has created a supportive, empathetic and mentoring environment. MGR is like a family to its employees and has a support system that includes marriage counselling and financial literacy training. “We provide adult jobs and our employees are treated like adults, sometimes for the first time in their lives,” says Stewart. “They get a handshake and a personal ‘thank-you’ with every paycheque. We treat them with respect, but we expect them to do the job,” he adds. “People noticeably change when they work here. They behave differently, they dress differently, they talk differently. It’s quite a thing to witness.”
Over the years, MGR has helped train many workers who then move on to the private sector, working with contractors in all areas of construction trades. “What we’ve created here is a variation of what the typical social enterprise looks like,” says Stewart. “And what we provide definitely has a dollar value to society. By helping people, training them and giving them work, we help make a very real and positive impact on Winnipeg neighbourhoods and on society as a whole.”