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Provide a Meal and Touch a Life

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By: Helen Choi

While Easter can be a time of celebration for family and friends, the holiday can also be a sad and isolating time for many people.  Members of The Yonge Street Mission’s (YSM) low-income community in Toronto often have limited resources, nowhere to go, and no one to spend the time with during the Easter season.  However, people who are underprivileged or alone can find hope thanks to the generosity of community volunteers, donors and YSM.

Dedicated volunteers serve meals, spend time with people in the community followed by a special banquet thanks to generous donors. This does not include the fact that YSM-wide has over 100 programs and services, providing hundreds of meals per service areas. This means, for a high need season like Easter, thousands of meals will be shared. However, this may sound like a lot of food, in reality the demand is greater than supply.

Annually, over 140,000 meals are served and donations are accepted year round. People interested in volunteering their time to help make a difference or donating a meal to a deserving person should visit www.ysm.ca. The fastest and easiest way to donate is with a click of a button here. For $3.11 you can provide a meal, or you can feed an entire table of 10 people for $31.10.

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Since 1896, The Yonge Street Mission’s meal has symbolized a new beginning for hungry and hurting people. For homeless youth, the meal means taking a positive step towards a new life as they are introduced to health and counselling, housing supports and job training. For seniors, coming out of their small, crowded, isolated apartments and reconnecting with friends is critically important. And for new immigrants, a meal can be a chance to build new and rewarding friendships.

Above all, it’s heartbreaking to see children or anyone in our community hungry and hurting. It’s amazing how a simple meal can touch a life, and you can help today!

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Yonge Street Mission’s Christmas Banquet Story

 

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YSM’s Children’s Program

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YSM’s Women and Family Program

 

By: Julie Maclean

Women and family and children’s program joined forces again this year for the annual Christmas banquet. We were excited to invite the children’s families and had activities lined up for the children and the parents.

Our afternoon began with a poem about the Regent Park revitalization and a prayer. Markers, stickers, baubles, boughs and berries were laid on top of paper table clothes so everyone could draw, decorate and make festive holiday centrepieces to take home.

We had an amazing volunteer group of friends and families who bought, prepared and served our food. The children wanted to help. They asked for hair nets and distributed stickers. Everyone enjoyed making their own tacos and ice cream sundaes. One special volunteer and her mum brought in delicious homemade Christmas cookies. They have been joining us for years and look forward to meeting old friends annually!

The food was a new taste treat for one mother from Afghanistan.  Her daughters loved the tacos and she decided that she is going to try making them at home. Our volunteers dined with us and made new friends. It was such a warm and friendly environment.

Ukulele riffs, rap and Bieber at St. James Town Youth Council’s Urban Flair talent show

Urban Flair

By Bethany Van Lingen

A Justin Bieber medley, followed by a complicated ukulele riff, then a rap number opened the Urban Flair Talent show on Thursday, August 22, 2013.  A dramatic monologue was so intensely performed that a prop cane snapped in two.  A complex martial arts routine with twirling nunchucks was so realistic it made a little girl in the audience cover her eyes.  A neighbourhood kid got up to dance enthusiastically in front of the stage during a particularly good set, much to the chagrin of his sister.  Through these acts and more, St. James Town youth had an opportunity to showcase their artistry and delight their audience at Urban Flair.

Committee chair Fionna Gan brought together the 11 performances by 14 artists at the neighbourhood’s largest event, which ran from 6 to 8 pm on the Wellesley Community Centre lawn.  From high school to now third year of university in engineering, Fionna has led the Urban Flair talent show to its fifth year.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say it was life-changing to work with such a group of dedicated and driven young people at St. James Town Youth Council,” Fionna said.

Fionna is one of 7 to 8 community youth on the Urban Flair committee.  Four youth were hired and paid a honourarium as event organizers.

“The youth running the program are extremely passionate, very organized, very focused and they really love their community. The performers are hard-working and brave. They inspire me,” said Angeline Tetten-Wayoe, FLOW 93.5’s “Miss Ange” and judge for the evening’s performances.

Urban Flair began in 2009 and was attended by 800 people, making it one of the biggest events the Council put on in their first year.  Since then, Urban Flair has continued to draw 500 to 600 people, including friends and parents supporting the performers and St. James Town community members.

Hundreds in the audience were not disappointed with the high-caliber performers.  Christian Chadwick Sabado won first place with his rendition of the song “Mama Knows Best”, Gaston Pistan took second with a dramatic monologue and the Jiggly Jammers third with a vocal and guitar summer mash-up.  For the Jiggly Jammers, this was the first time they had ever performed publically.

“My cousins and I saw the flyer in the neighbourhood and they asked me if we should apply. I said, ‘Why not? Let’s do it.’ I’m glad we did,” said Jona Krista Yalong, a member of the Jiggly Jammers.

Playing live at Urban Flair gave first time performers like the Jiggly Jammers much-needed encouragement.

“We have three youth performing who are very talented but also shy. Performing at Urban Flair will help them connect to the community and it will be a quicker transition to fit into this family of cultures.  I’m amazed that I can make such a difference,” Fionna said.

Community youth are also able to find the social services they need, by auditioning, volunteering and attending Urban Flair.  Youth were able to meet Mission staff and receive support during auditions held at YSM’s auditorium.  Many parents came to support the youth during their auditions, so they too were able to get acquainted with the Mission.  Social services in the city attended the event to connect with St. James Town youth and for youth to find the help they need.  Yonge Street Mission backed Urban Flair and the Council by providing funding and staff advisors, recruiting volunteers and helping with promotion.  The council and YSM staff advisor successfully applied and received a $7,500 grant from ScotiaBank, which made this event possible.  Mission staff came out to Urban Flair to encourage the youth and could be heard cheering them on during sets.

“I hope this event will give confidence to the people performing and encouragement to keep using their gifts.  I hope it will also bring a sense of positivity to the community,” said Jordan Heywood, staff with Yonge Street Mission’s Youth United in Visionary Action program.

Now that the event is over, Fionna and her committee members will follow up with sponsors and thank donors.  There will be an awards ceremony dinner for council youth and their parents on Saturday.  As this year’s council members are celebrated and thanked, recruitment is underway for new members who will grow in their gifts by helping their community.

“Together, we’re like a family,” Fionna said during her closing speech.

Celebrate Hope in the City

By Anne Keyes

Double Take Mural - Hope in the City

Double Take Mural – Hope in the City

We had a beautiful day for a party on August 20th to celebrate The Yonge Street Mission’s spectacular new mural, ‘Hope in the City.’ This dramatic image covers the entire east wall of our Double Take Store, and captures the diversity, energy and hope reflected in our Mission community. “The mural is our gift to the community, reflecting the hope and faith we have in the potential of everyone we work with,” says Paul Davidson, Mission Administrative Officer.

Paul worked with Double Take Store Manager Kathy Webster, to form a selection committee made up of stakeholders in the Regent Park neighbourhood.

Local artists with deep roots in the community, Jason Rouleau and Ryan Dineen of the Toronto Muralists, submitted the winning design. “This is exactly the message of ‘Hope’ that the Mission wants to convey,” says Kathy. “If a person who needed help walked by and saw it, they would think ‘Maybe this is a place that can help me.’”

Who doesn't love ice cream?

Who doesn’t love ice cream?

About 200 people came out to party in the sunshine, enjoy popcorn, ice cream from the Bow Tie ice cream truck and delicious homemade samosas and pakoras provided by women from our Building A Better Life program.

Dancing with Kaysun

Dancing with Kaysun

Guests enjoyed a live street dance performance by Fionna Gan, a community youth leader and member of the Mission’s St. James Town Youth Council, and also the music of Kaysun, a Toronto-based singer-songwriter, (“Find A Way” ranked #1 on CBC Radio ).

Pam McConnell, ward councillor for Toronto Centre-Rosedale, helped cut the ribbon and now Hope in the City is official! We hope everyone enjoys it as much as one of our neighbours: while he was painting the mural Justin Rouleau tells us, “A woman stopped by and mentioned to me that she lived in a building across the street and seeing the mural from her window every morning brightens her day.”

A P.E.I. Lobster Feast for the Mission’s Seniors!

 

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A P.E.I. Lobster Feast for the Mission’s Seniors!

By: Anne Keyes

“This is such a treat,” said one senior, “I’m from down east originally, but I never get to have lobster any more. What a lovely gift from these young people!”

All of the seniors enjoyed the east coast hospitality and interacting with the young people. The group worked seamlessly to reheat the lobster, and make up a traditional Prince Edward Island church dinner of lobster rolls and potato salad. Delicious!

On Tuesday, August 6th we were honoured to have 21 youth and six adults from Murray River, Prince Edward Island visit, volunteer and provide fresh lobster for the Seniors’ lunch.

Murray River is a fishing community and the lobster was donated by the youth group’s parents – most of whom work in the lobster fishery. The parents pre-cooked and shelled the lobster, then froze and packed it. The group travelled for 26 hours by train, from Monkton, NB, and VIA Rail gave them freezer space for the journey.

The Memorial United Church youth are on a mission trip to Toronto. They finished their visit to Yonge Street Mission with a walking tour of our Regent Park neighbourhood, and took part in a community clean up while doing so. Our seniors hope they come back to visit us soon!

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Summer Day Camp

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By: Anne Keyes

“The Incredible Adventure” of summer day camp a Yonge Street Mission has reached the half way mark. The whole place is buzzing with the enthusiasm generated by over 100 kids in our two summer day camp programs.

“Field trips are awesome:” this is the consensus at both the computer lab and community centre camps. “Willowgrove farm was sooo good, we got to paddle canoes and go into the woods, it’s so different from the city,” enthused one girl. “I was brave at Reptillia and touched the snakes and alligators. A lot of the boys wouldn’t do that,” said another little girl.

Parents from our low-income community tell us how much they appreciate the Mission’s camps: “My child would never get to see all of these places without this camp – thank you!” said one mother who volunteers to help with the day trips.

Centre Island, the Ontario Science Centre and the annual strawberry farm visit – delicious! – have provided other great days out for our kids. “We have added more outdoor adventures this year with water games in the park and exploring Riverdale farm to gather materials from for our art projects,” says children’s program coordinator Julie MacLean, “the kids love exploring their environment and having fun, they don’t even realize how much they are learning!”

Arts are a big part of summer day camp at the Mission. The computer lab media camp challenges kids to design a logo for each of the three segments – animal kingdom, outta this world, and reality camp. They explore each theme through internet scavenger hunts – “it’s cool to learn all about outer space, there’s so much stuff on the web about it.”

At the community centre camp Julie has three guest artists on her team teaching taught paper making, photo transfers and umbrella painting – projects designed for the kids really explore their creativity. As if that wasn’t enough, the campers also enjoy a weekly team cheers contest, complete with chants, props, singing, dancing and acting.

Julie sums up camp so far: “For opening ceremonies on the first day of the camp we all blew bubbles up to the sky with our wishes and prayers. We promised the children that they would leave camp with new experiences that would change them forever.”

And it has. Feedback from the campers resonates with the joy of making new friends: “bonding with new kids and the counsellors is the very best thing about coming to this camp!”

Innercity Youth Champion to Revitalize an Unsafe Tennis Court by Taking it Online

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Innercity Youth Champion to Revitalize an Unsafe Tennis Court by Taking it Online

By: Helen Choi

Toronto, July 15, 2013 – Inner city youth from St. James Town identified a need to transform an unsafe tennis court in their backyard into a multi-functional sports space.  They are the only youth-run finalists representing all of Toronto in a Canada-wide contest with the Kraft Celebration Tour.

The voting begins on Thursday, July 18th at 12:00 noon and will go on for 24-hours until 12:00 noon July 19th.  Everyone with internet access is asked to go visit www.kraftcelebrationtour.ca and vote as many times as possible to help  25,000 people by winning $25,000 for St. James Town.

“We’re working really hard to get this done. It’s important. A bunch of people don’t know a space like this exists. Any space that is not being used well deserves an opportunity to being a valuable space,” said Gabilan Sivapatham, a St. James Town Youth Council member.

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St. James Town is one of the most densely populated communities anywhere in North America with 25,000 residents. The tiny block has is less than 1 square kilometer with 19 towering apartments.  It is also highly populated with low-income new immigrant families with children.

Currently, the St. James Town Youth Council, comprised of 15 youths from 13-21 years of age, is competing against the municipality-endorsed Township of Wilmot Creek in Waterloo.  The Township’s overall fundraising goal is to raise $280,000 to build a children’s splash pad.

 Chesarahmia Dojo Soeandy, a long time Youth Council member, saw the advertisement for the online competition on The Sports Network (TSN) the same week it was due.  Immediately, she notified her council members and applied online minutes to midnight before the deadline during her summer course examination period.

“It was a huge surprise that we became finalists. We are totally grateful. This area definitely needs more work to be useable. You need to make it safe.  It’s dangerous, those (tennis) fences. We see someone try to fix it with a wooden plank. We need a lot of support for this voting to be successful,” Chesarahmia said.

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In a high-rise community such as this, every green space is valuable. Since 2008, when the St. James Town Youth Council was formed, they have been prioritizing to revitalize the run-down tennis court in partnership with Community Matters, a local neighborhood organization.

Currently, despite its state of disarray, St. James Town community members still gather at the tennis court, one of a few green spaces available for games of cricket and ball hockey. But for each game they play, they risk turning an ankle on cracked pavement, slipping on a dark film covering the court or getting an infected gash from the sharp, rusty edges of the disintegrating fence.

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This will be the Council’s third online competition, as they had lost by a very close margin in the past two competitions to potentially win $25,000 and $50,000. The youth are wasting no time keeping an eye out to strengthen their community by using their social media skills.

The winners will be announced during an evening edition of TSN SportsCentre and RDS Sports 30 on the day that the voting period closes.  Out of a historic 629 applicants, 20 finalists are selected and paired up across Canada.  Winners will be declared by the highest number of votes clicked online.  In total, 10 will be awarded $25,000 to fund a sports-related space of choice in their community.

Remember, you can vote as many times for a chance for them to win on July 18th noon until July 19th noon.

For more information about the contest and to vote click here: http://www.kraftcelebrationtour.ca/en/

 

Ride or Die – Tackling Youth Drug Use

By Anne Keyes

Over 50 youth and adults gather at YSM to see the premiere of “Ride or Die” an 8-minute drama that tackles youth drug use in St. James Town.  Produced by our own YUVA (Youth United in Visionary Action) Summer Action Team, the drama tackles youth drug use in the St. James Town community and the violent consequences of gang involvement. See “Ride or Die” for yourself – the goal now is to get 150 Facebook ‘likes’ posted by mid-July by youth in the community.

The project was realized as a Regent Park Film Festival workshop. “They did so well and were so committed,” said Richard Fung, workshop program facilitator; “the group spent five weeks developing the story and training on the equipment, and it looks so good!”

The youth actors/writers/producers took part in a panel discussion after the viewing to discuss smart ways to prevent gangs and drug use in Toronto, providing thoughtful answers to questions posed by their peers.

Youth from the Richmond Hill World Vision Action Cluster were special guests of the evening. Our goal was to engage them in the dialogue and to thank them for supporting YUVA through their fundraising efforts. There was also a time of sharing between the YUVA Action Team, recent YUVA grads, and Richmond Hill students as they independently formed a talking circle in the middle of the party room to facilitate more discussion.

We look forward to connecting again with the Richmond Hill students to continue our dialogue and to inspire more youth-led initiatives in both communities. The YUVA film will be shared with youth in St. James Town and surrounding communities via Facebook and YouTube to get 150 “likes” and “views” to help to encourage other youth to say “no” to drug use and gang violence. The youth plan to showcase their advocacy skills by hosting more screenings in order to catalyze more youth-led activism initiatives amongst their peers, and to inspire other youth to think differently about gang violence and drug use.

What do you think of the message in this production?

 

Rejuvenation and Servitude

Rejuvenation and Servitude

By: Andrew Williams

Last Wednesday, YSM closed its doors so that staff could open their souls at Fantasy Farms where our all-staff day away took place. “Rejuvenation of the Soul” was the theme.Surrounded by nature, the day began with worship songs, including 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), a personal favourite. Our guest speaker, Rev. Dr. Cal MacFarlane of Briercrest College spoke about Jesus isolating Himself to rest and rejuvenate (after His baptism, when John the Baptist was killed, and after healing the masses in Capernaum) – which were testaments to Jesus’ humanity. Staff Day Away 2013

Lunch was followed by a Q&A period with Angie, our new CEO. Staff asked her some light-hearted questions (If you were to start a band, who would be in it? Angelina Jolie and Mother Teresa were two members), and whether or not she had any tattoos. Other questions regarding her business strategy, fundraising, and management style were answered with poise and humour.  She stated that no questions were off limits and even divulged, without hesitation, her age when asked. Afterwards, we broke into individual reflection time which was perfect since we were nestled in nature.

When we returned to work on Thursday, June 6, Broadway Serves made a special visit to Evergreen Centre where they helped prepare and serve lunch to Evergreen youth. Trevor Leaderbrand, Christopher Faison, and co-founder Kimberly Marable dedicated a morning to help Nathan Scott and Vlad Nuk in the kitchen. A year ago Dana Marie Ingraham, Dionne Figgins, and Kimberly founded Broadway Serves to provide theatre professionals with ways to be the change beyond the stage. While touring from city to city, Kimberly finds opportunities for Broadway Serves to serve the community they’re in, and the cast from Sister Act, who was also in Toronto recommended Evergreen.

Broadway Serves

Not only did Broadway Serves help with lunch, they also came back on June 10th with bags of food donations for Evergreen before taking off for Buffalo.

If you want to know more about Broadway Serves, check them out at www.broadwayserves.org or on Twitter (@BwayServes).

Until next time!

 

Books Abound

By: April Bangaysiso

I once heard someone say, “People like waiting in lines because lines signify something important.”  I do believe there is merit to this statement, especially after seeing the very long line to the Yonge Street Mission’s (YSM) 9th Annual Book Fair. On an early Wednesday morning, a line of bibliophiles quickly developed, wanting to be the “first” ones in. Many of those waiting curiously peered through the glass windows into the book fair, in awe of the number of books in the room, and with large reusable shopping bags in hand ready to be filled at no charge.Book Fair Photo

On May 29th at 10AM, the doors finally opened. Over 100 volunteers generously offered their time prior to and during the fair, assisting in sorting, categorizing and helping people look through approximately 20,000 books. Books were kindly donated by people and companies: Owlkids Books sent us a huge number of children’s books and magazines, and Brookfield Properties collected over 13,000 books for us with their Epic Book Drive this spring.

The room was bursting with paperbacks and hardcovers, bound with decorative spines and eye-catching titles luring many interested readers. From historical romance novels to travel guides of the most exotic places in the world, it was all there. Popular genres included fiction, Bibles, children books, reference books and dictionaries for those learning English.

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Throughout the book fair, it was noticeable that many children and teens crowded around the ‘Young Adults’ section looking for the latest installment of their favourite series. Paul, a teacher from Lord Dufferin Public School, brought six of his students to the book fair on the first day. At Lord Dufferin, Paul teaches grades 6-8 students with learning disabilities. When they walked in, the youth hurried to the ‘young adult’ section, taking books for themselves, before exploring some more to find books for family members. “I’ve been here for a few years now and I love this. I usually buy books second-hand,” Paul said while sifting through the history section.

In the previous year, YSM served over 1,000 members of the community during the book fair. This year’s Annual Book Fair did not disappoint. It was an absolute hit with many. Promotional fliers and word-of-mouth advertising guaranteed an outcome that exceeded our expectations.

Thank you to the staff, volunteers, attendees and donors for making the Yonge Street Mission’s 9th Annual Book Fair a great success! See you next year!

~

 “A good book is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility what human nature is of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.” — Susan Sontag

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