The executive director and co-founder of Regina's North Central Family Centre improves lives with hard work, compassion, and love of her community.
As you walk into the North Central Family Centre in Regina, the sense of community pride is striking. The well-manicured yard, colourful play structure and bright front façade make the building shine like a precious gemstone; however, upon entering the doors, it’s soon apparent that it’s the individuals and volunteers inside who make the organization truly shine. And one individual in particular is the true crown jewel of the centre—Sandy Wankel.
Wankel, the executive director and co-founder of the North Central Family Centre, selflessly and humbly attributes the success of the community organization to everyone involved—including volunteers, parents, sponsors, staff and others. It’s abundantly clear though, when talking to Wankel, that this sanctuary exists because of her hard work, compassion, kindness and love of the community.
The North Central Family Centre focuses on the children of the community, but works with entire families. It offers wrap-around programs—such as employment classes, cooking seminars, community outreach, and cultural programs—that engage everyone ages six through 80. The community of North Central Regina has faced many struggles, so the North Central Family Centre’s goal is to create and maintain positivity, empowerment and purpose throughout the entire community, and particularly for those most vulnerable—the youth.
“One thing that makes us unique is that we’ve created an environment and brought in the community, so we’re a part of the community. I’ve always wondered about people when it’s top down—you can’t really tell people how to act, but you can show them. You have to help, you have to empower people, but the bottom-line is you just have to accept them, and work from there. And I think that’s what we’ve created here.”
Wankel’s primary focus throughout her work is giving all of the members of the North Central Family Centre—and particularly the young women—a feeling of ownership in their lives, their homes, their communities and even in the world. “Our kids have had barriers and hardships in life, and we’re trying to get them to overcome. But you do that also by giving them a sense of [empowerment],” she says with a warm smile. “We always say to our kids here: ‘We want you in the parade. We don’t want you watching the parade. We’re part of a global world—you’re part of Regina, you’re part of Saskatchewan, you’re part of a world, and you have a voice to make a difference.’”
Wankel’s encouragement and positive messaging to the youth of the North Central Family Centre has shifted how these beautiful people speak and think of themselves, and has nurtured the organization for 10 years. With Wankel’s leadership, this organization will continue to flourish.
Sitting in Wankel’s cozy office with inspirational messages, handmade art, and photos brightening the walls, it’s easy to tell that this woman is well loved and has loved well. Being a co-founder of such a pivotal community organization, seeking funding, asking for support and for people to care, are not easy tasks, and to do so with charisma and constant positive energy is even more difficult. Her courageous work and inspiring words paint a beautiful picture of a strong, empowered woman who celebrates vulnerability and embraces challenge: “I’m hearing impaired—I read lips. It’s been very challenging for me over the years. I do a lot of things scared. When I have to go talk, and I’m not sure if I’m going to hear the questions correctly, and I [still] do it. I do it because I had someone who gave me the strength to do that, and I want our youth to see that being scared is OK because it pushes them to be stronger. I want to be that person for them. We can give girls the strength to [work through challenges that] come in their way, and that’s why agencies like ours are here.”
What stands out the most while speaking with Wankel is that no matter the hardships she faces with running a not-for-profit organization, she is constantly inspiring and building up others. “[The most rewarding thing we can do in life] is to watch a young girl that couldn’t even look at herself in the mirror, see herself in a different light, and start growing and evolving,” she says. Her biggest piece of advice for the young women she works with: “Don’t let anyone else define you. You define yourself and what you want in life. It doesn’t matter what’s behind you or what circumstances you come from, it’s all where you’re going. I want our girls to see themselves how they want to be. And to realize that, all these little things, it’ll pass someday. All these little insurmountable hurts, like any bullying or anything, this is a little part of their life right now. It will get better. And they will excel. And they will do well.” Wankel’s inspiring and challenging messages are for not only the youth of the North Central Family Centre, but for every woman—sage advice we can all incorporate into our lives.
As we wrapped up our conversation, we chatted about purpose in life. Years ago, as a young mom living in a small town searching for her purpose, Wankel asked herself what would be put on her tombstone. “That I was nice?” She laughs. “You know I really hope I make a difference in life. And I’ve been given this opportunity to do it. It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s never me alone.” It is clear that Wankel is very much making a difference in many lives, and will continue to attribute her success to all of the other individuals involved. Wankel is truly extraordinary—she knows it takes a village to raise a child and she has created that healing, empowering village in North Central Family Centre.
Moved by Wankel and the community she has brought together in the heart of Regina, we hosted a pancake breakfast for girls from the North Central Family Centre. The girls made two bracelets each—one to keep and one to be sold by Hillberg & Berk, with 100% of the proceeds going to the North Central Family Centre. In the end, the girls raised a total of $4,000 for the North Central Family Centre with the Sandy Bracelet; named, of course, after its inspirational namesake.