Winnipeg, Manitoba

Father and son volunteer together at Sam's Place

When 14-year-old Jae Min Lee was looking for volunteer work, he didn’t expect his dad would want to join him.

The grade 9 student wanted to improve his social skills and gain job experience this summer and found an opportunity to do both at Sam’s Place in Winnipeg—and soon, impressed with what he saw, his father Dwight Lee decided to join him.

Sam’s Place is a café and bookstore run by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). In Winnipeg’s Elmwood neighbourhood, it provides valuable mentorship and job training for youth who face significant barriers to employment. Last year, Sam's Place assisted 25 youth volunteers in obtaining full-time employment. This is the first time a father and son have volunteered there together.

Dwight Lee tallies the cost of a customer's book purchase at Sam's Place.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Dwight has already been in the workforce for years, but just recently moved to Winnipeg from Incheon, South Korea.

“At first I didn’t think about doing the volunteering here, but when I came here with my son, I thought it was very interesting and good for the neighbourhood. I decided I wanted to join this volunteering. Helping others makes me happy,” Dwight explains.

In addition to volunteering, Dwight is entering a new career. He’s studying hotel hospitality at the Manitoba Institute of Trade and Technology.

Dwight Lee cleans tables at Sam's Place.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

While an internship isn’t compulsory to graduate, he felt it would be beneficial to have some experience working in the field.

“This will be a big help for me to experience this. I didn’t have restaurant experience before,” Dwight explains.

He also felt it would help him acclimatize to the very different culture in Canada and practice English.

“I’m not familiar with this environment,” he says. “It’s a good opportunity to meet new people in Canada.”

Jae Min Lee makes a cappuccino at Sam's Place.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

For Jae, volunteering at Sam’s Place is a way to prepare himself for the next two years of high school in which volunteering will help him earn school credit.

“Maybe (volunteering here) will help me prepare for it. It’s helping me learn to communicate with strangers. I’m usually a little shy,” he says.

Many youth would try to avoid working alongside their parent, and Jae jokingly agrees, saying with a scoff, “He’s torturing me!” However, he quickly concedes their relationship has improved by volunteering together.

“We’re closer. We were talking before, but now we’re talking more frequently,” Jae says.

Sam's Place volunteer learns to steam milk

Jae Min Lee is a summer volunteer at Sam’s Place. Alex Strange is the volunteer and youth engagement coordinator there and is working with Jae to learn basic barista skills.

Alex Strange, the volunteer and youth engagement coordinator at Sam’s Place, says he’s seen the two develop their relationship and help each other to grow in a professional environment.

“It’s nice to see them learning from each other. It’s great to see we’re set up in such a way as a café to provide them with several areas of growth and they can experience this growth together,” he says.

Strange says he’s seen Jae learn from his father’s work experience and Dwight learn from his son’s local cultural knowledge as he’s lived in Canada longer.

“I’m happy Sam’s Place is the kind of place where anyone can improve themselves and work towards their goals,” he says. “Volunteers make Sam's Place what it is.”

To learn more about volunteering at Sam’s Place, or for more information about the café and bookstore, visit