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Toronto Storytelling Festival celebrates local and international performers

On April 2, eight of the city’s best storytellers gathered under the Centre for Social Innovation’s roof for an evening of tale tales and personal narratives. Organized in conjunction with the Toronto Storyteller’s Festival, nearly 200 attended the Storyteller’s Fete. The event showcased performers from local storytelling evenings including Pressgang Theatre, True Stories Told Live, Tales from the Black, and more.

Organizer Stefan Hofstetter, who runs the monthly storytelling event Stories We Don’t Tell, said the event was a special one. Growing out of the festival’s Storyfire community events, the Storyteller’s Fete “a premiere Storyfire event, to bring these events under one roof,” says Hostetter. “The storytelling scene in Toronto isn’t huge, but it is growing, and we wanted to celebrate how cool and powerful the scene can be.”

In contrast with the festival’s frequent focus on tall tales and folk stories, the fete was a blend of both personal narratives and fictional stories, which Hostetter says appeals more to an older, more traditional storytelling crowd. “The goal was to bring people together. We wanted young people to see the roots of storytelling and where it came,” he explains. “Storytelling is important, because personal narrative is uniquely in its ability to draw people in our lives. Done well, it may be the most effective builder of empathy.”

The Toronto Storytelling Festival continues through to April 10, with events from local and international performers. It will conclude with the TD Story Jam, a two-day event at the Harbourfront Centre. The TD Story Jam will focus on family-friendly narratives, including stories from the natural world and from international origins. As Hostetter says, “In Toronto, we come from so many different places and there are so many different back stories. We don’t all share the same childhoods, or the sense that this is the way it’s always been. We do have the same feelings, emotions, and fears, and those emotions help bridge that lack of shared history.”

The Neighbourhood illustrates Sheridan's artistic talent

On April 14 and 15, Toronto art lovers and students will have a chance to see what Sheridan College illustration students have been working on for the past four years. The 2016 graduation show, titled The Neighbourhood, will showcase more than 400 works from nearly 80 students working in media as diverse as drawing to motion graphics. Past shows have attracted upwards of 1000 people.

Beena Mistry, a member of the 2016 graduation council, says the show’s title comes from the students’ sense of community. “The grads this year are such a close-knit group. In keeping with that theme, all the promotional material are work that the grads collaborated on. It just goes to show that we can make good work whether by ourselves or together.”

Despite the school’s Oakville location, the graduate show will be held at 99 Sudbury Street in downtown Toronto. “We’ve been holding our shows in downtown Toronto for many years now, and they’ve become a staple event in the Toronto art community,” says Mistry. “The train ride from Oakville to Toronto is where we get to freak out about the show quietly, but together.” Mistry says that show’s location is important for exposure: “The grad show is an incredibly important way of getting our talented grads in the Toronto art community. It’s a great way for us to get our foot in the door we can start our careers!”

In return, the graduates expect to see what Mistry calls “a huge buzz” about the event. “A lot of our guests pop in because they’re in the area and they want to see what’s going on. There’s a huge line to get into the show on opening night.” Hungry guests can get their snack needs met by the Rancho Relaxo Food Truck, which will offer vegan and gluten-free options.

Past graduates of Sheridan’s illustration program include Graham Roumieu, author of Autobiography of Big Foot, and the program is considered one of the best in North America. “We get students from around the world to study here, making the program very diverse,” says Mistry. But the show will reinforce that, no matter where they came from, these graduates are now part of Toronto’s illustration community. “We all take inspiration from each other, and being able to talk to other creative folks is an enriching experience.”
 

Youth workers get new hub to find and share information

A new information hub for people working with marginalized youth in Ontario aims to demonstrate that a little knowledge can go a long way.
 
Launched last week, the eXchange for Youth Work is a project of York University’s School of Social Work for the provincial Youth Research & Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX). YouthREX sets out to create an evidence-based strategic framework for improving youth outcomes—that is, ensuring that programs and services really do have an impact on their lives and communities. The hub will make it easier for youth workers to access and share information to deliver and improve their offerings to Aboriginal, newcomer, racialized, disabled, LGBTTQ and other special-needs youth. The search function of the eXchange allows users to zoom in on what’s most important for the youth they’re working with.
 
The curated library already contains more than 500 resources, including research summaries that can help workers more quickly determine if a document is relevant and helpful. Though mainstream resources may be getting better at including data and insight on marginalized communities, they may not highlight information that’s especially relevant, overlooking issues like intersectional identities or using language that is not especially inclusive. The hub will include everything from academic papers to blogs to relevant personal stories.
 
“One of the things we’re careful about is not using a lot of the exclusionary language that exists within the research community. Language is powerful for so many different reasons and can be another tool that magnifies divisions,” says Uzo Anucha, provincial academic director of YouthREX.
 
YouthREX emerged, in part, from increased pressure for community service organizations to share knowledge and increase cooperation, as well as find common tools for evaluating and measuring success. A for-profit business can just look at its bottom line. But when your job is, for example, to empower youth and build stronger communities, hard numbers can be hard to come by. Youth feedback is one method, but may not tell the whole story. So the eXchange website also includes an evaluation toolkit that helps workers come up with methods to determine if a given program is making the impact it’s striving for.
 
“It’s important we think of evidence as coming from difference sources, from research, from practice, from lived experiences to make sure we are giving voice to all the different voices within the circle,” says Anucha. “We have to do more to democratize who can do research and who access that, so that different people can actually tell their own stories.”
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Uzo Anucha

George Brown's Fashion Exchange in Regent Park aims to create jobs, help designers flourish

When George Brown was exploring ideas around creating a fashion-oriented program as part of the revitalization of Regent Park, it passed on the idea of a fashion incubator. What the school chose instead for its partnership with Daniels Spectrum was something more daring.
 
“What we’ve come up with is something far more integrated between the college, the community and industry. Normally incubators are separate and only the people in the incubator would be in that space, as growing small businesses,” says Marilyn McNeil-Morin, chair of George Brown’s School of Fashion Studies. Instead, the new Fashion Exchange, which officially opens this week, combines training with a production facility that can help Toronto fashion houses bring their designs to reality.
 
In phase one, George Brown has established a program offering entry-level training to at-risk youth, leading to an internship and possible employment in high-need areas like industrial power sewing. The Exchange will also offer advanced production skills, courses aimed at people who may already work in the industry. “Our industry is ramping up production here in Canada, which has a lot to do with consumer interest in environmental and social sustainability. There’s a real need for people to know how to do production,” says McNeil-Morin. “So we’ll be offering production training in a production setting.”
 
That setting—and what’s particularly unique about the Fashion Exchange—is a program that will invite emerging designers to use the production facilities to create samples and short-runs. “That’s a major concern for so many emerging designers—there’s nowhere they can get their work done. They’re too small, they’re not established labels and can’t do the quantities they need to go to a standard contractor and definitely not to go overseas.” So community people can not only get training, but get jobs running a professional production facility. There will be between six and eight jobs to start, a number that could grow up to 20 as the hub evolves.
 
“We don’t see our students being the ones doing that work. We want them to learn about production by observing and putting their own products through a production line,” says McNeil-Morin.
 
The 6,000-square-foot space location, away from the college’s campus, is meant to be visible and accessible, so passersby can see garments being made. “We kept it very industrial looking with lots of light, white walls, a very clean look.”
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Marilyn McNeil-Morin

Chip Truck rolls out animal services across the GTA

Toronto Animal Services kicked off their Chip Truck program’s fifth year last week. Mary Lou Leiher, Program Manager with Animal Services, said that, despite the rain, about twenty cats and dogs were chipped, vaccinated against rabies, or registered with the city. As the Chip Truck makes its way around Toronto in the coming months, subsequent events could see nearly 100 animals per event.

“It’s a way to make it easy for people. We’re putting it out in their community,” says Leiher.  “Traditionally, we’d have people come into the shelter to get chipped, but us going out into the community is much more convenient for people.” Animal Services also offers a rabies vaccine, which, in the face of the rabies outbreak among Hamilton raccoons this year, has become even more important.

Dogs must be leashed and cats must be contained in a carrier to be eligible for Chip Truck service. Animals that are licensed with the City of Toronto can receive a chip and rabies vaccine for ten dollars; a license, shot, and chip costs thirty-five dollars for dogs and twenty-five for cats. “We’re a very affordable option,” says Leiher. She stresses that animals and owners do not need to live in Toronto to use the Chip Truck, and that no appointment is necessary.

The Chip Truck is currently scheduled for three more stops between now and October, but Leiher encourages people to check their website for additional dates and locations. Animal Services chooses locations based on need, and where the community may not have access to veterinary services for their dogs and cats. “We try to move it around and try to make sure that everyone is close to a Chip Truck event at some point,” she says. “We also encourage people to develop a relation with a vet, but not everyone is able to do that. The segment of the population that doesn’t have a veterinarian for their pet, that’s the segment that we impact the most. It helps to enhance the bond that they have with their pet, and that’s what this is all about.”
 

The YU Carnival makes city-building a party for young people

Tonight, Toronto youth are invited to Project YU’s Urban Carnival. From 5:30 to 8:30 at the Great Hall on Queen Street West, the Urban Carnival is a hybrid of both party and urbanist discussion. Focused around three themes—Affordability, Public Realm, and Transportation—the free event also offers a DJ, a performance by local dance troupe YYZ and carnival-inspired snacks. There will be a live mural painting by local artist Adrian Hayles, which builds on the theme of Public Realm. Participants can also draft a mock budget, allocating the city’s resources as they see fit. A roundtable discussion with local transportation experts from Metrolinx, the City of Toronto, the TTC, and the private sector, promises to be “small, intimate coffee table talks,” says Cancelli, offering participants insights into how the city’s transportation works.

“We want youth to be informed, but also make urbanism fun and cool. That’s why we went with the carnival theme,” says Ariana Cancelli, Program Coordinator at the Canadian Urban Institute and Project YU. “The ambassadors didn’t want a traditional or formal event, so this is more interactive.” The Carnival marks the launch of Project YU, which aims to help young people across the GTA become more aware of, and involved in, the issues facing the city.

Project YU’s ambassadors played a key part in organizing and publicizing the event. “Their role will be trying to engage people in conversation, sharing info on project YU,” says Cancelli, adding that another group of young people has been involved in creating blog posts for Project YU. “We have articles written for youth by youth about the urban environment, so we’re really hoping to get people involved and connected so they’re aware of this content,” she says.

“We want to have more purposeful conversations about urban environment, which is the point of Project YU,” says Cancelli. “The blog will continue, and maybe it will be an online hub. We’re also trying to develop the network, and get everyone linked into our social sites."

Change comes on Two Wheels: locations for Scarborough's new community bike hubs announced

Coming this June, Scarborough residents will have two new reasons to hop on their bicycles. In conjunction with local community partners, The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation will be opening a pair of cycling hubs in the borough. The new hubs, located at the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre and AccessPoint on Danforth, will both offer access to free tools and bicycles, as well as programming such as bike repair clinics, cycling mentors for new Canadians, and family-friendly bike rides.

The sites were chosen after an extensive mapping exercise conducted in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Cycling Think & Do Tank. Marvin Macaraig, TCAT’s Scarborough Cycles Project Coordinator, says that some of the parameters they measured included the number of trips currently taken by bike, local car ownership levels, and proximity to key transit outlets. “We also considered existing and future infrastructure. In the city’s ten-year plan, they’ve identified Kingston Road and Danforth as corridors, and both these hubs are a stone’s throw away from those corridors.”

Programming will build on existing success stories, such as the Bike Host program operated in partnership with CultureLink Settlement and Community Services, which trains and matches local mentors with new Canadians. Mentees receive a bike, as well as accessories like bells, lights and a lock, for a summer. Macaraig says that the new hubs will also tailor cycling programs to meet local needs; addressing, for example, the AccessPoint on Danforth’s existing LGBTQ users, and creating new programs just for them. “Our two hubs are really established in the communities they serve,” says Macaraig. “We would like our programming to not be exteriour to what they’re doing.”

Macaraig sees these new hubs as beginning to address the need for cycling support in Scarborough. “There’s only one bike shop in all of Scarborough, and we really think there’s a gap for people to learn about bikes, and learn about advocacy for bikes, and basic bike maintenance.” Indeed, while Toronto has seen cycling numbers rise over the past decade, they’ve actually dropped slightly in the inner suburbs. “Right now, Scarborough has zero bike hubs; after this spring, it will have two. We think that’s really important to help people move around.”
 

Documentary aims to capture Kensington Market's colourful, anarchic history

Waves of immigrant—Jewish, Portuguese, Caribbean, Eastern European and Asian—have shaped the six-block district that make up Kensington Market, each making their own contribution to the neighbourhood’s gritty bohemian charm.
 
But rising real estate prices and changing immigration patterns have resulted in a Kensington that’s become glossier and gentrified. Younger generations may see the market as a funky place to eat and drink without knowing what it’s meant to so many Torontonians.
 
Enter The Mission Media Company, which is working on a documentary about the first 150 years of the history of Kensington Market. Currently in the midst of crowdfunding, gathering archival film and video footage and recording personal stories about the market, the filmmakers hope to have the documentary ready for release in early 2017.
 
Director Stuart Clarfield’s Jewish great grandparents immigrated to the market just before the First World War at a time when 85 per cent of the city’s Jewish population lived there. His parents were born there and though Clarfield himself was born in North York, the market has remained a central part of his life.  “I’d hear stories of growing up there and what life was like. When I was in my teens I became enamoured of the vintage and alternative arts community here,” says Clarfield. His 1986 film Welcome to the Parade, about a wealthy drug user tossed out of his family home, has a scene shot in the market.

 Clarfield wants to capture the people and the stories of the neighbourhood while he still can. “The market is at a crossroads and this in some ways is the last opportunity to get the stories and see some of the legacy stores that existing in the market,” he says. “The Jewish community experience had ended by the early 1970s, so there’s a generation that’s lived here which is just passing away, and even folks from the Portuguese community, the Hungarian community that came here in the 1950s, they’re in their seventies and eighties. This may be the last opportunity to get their stories firsthand.”
 
While it’s been a challenge to fundraise for a documentary that’s perhaps too local to interest a national broadcaster, Clarfield expects the visuals to come more easily. “Artistically, you can point the camera in any direction and get somethings that’s interesting,” he says.
 
On March 26 and on April 3, the team will host a pop-up documentary station where people can share their stories and views of Kensington on camera. Habitués with photos, films and stories can email Kensington150@gmail.com.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Stuart Clarfield

Art on traffic signal boxes catches attention of artists, residents, businesses & other cities

Starting as a pilot project in 2013, the city’s Outside the Box project has transformed about 125 traffic signal boxes into thought-provoking works of art, with 70 more boxes to be painted this year.
 
The original idea was to discourage graffiti vandalism (different from graffiti art where there’s permission from the property owner) by selecting artists to paint one-of-a-kind creations some of the city’s 2,3000 traffic signal boxes. Some work connects with the box’s actual location or play with the box’s size and shape, while contributions from artist Gary Taxali and the late photographer Moira McElhinney have been turned into graphic synthetic wraps that adorn multiple boxes. The artworks can’t include advertising, offensive material, copyrighted material or depict traffic lights, signs or signals—the last restriction is because such images could confuse drivers.

 “We have had just an incredible diversity of artists, ages and styles,” says project manager Lilie Zendel. “We get a lot of positive feedback on it. The BIAs ask if we could target their neighbourhoods. This year we’ve succeeded in having one in every ward. Other cities have experimented with this, but I don’t think any other city in North America has done it to the scale we have done it now. It really adds to the fabric of each neighbourhood. I call it a micro-investment. Just by having an artist there who beautifies a corner, it becomes a catalyst for people caring more about what their neighbourhood looks like.”
 
Artists are paid an honorarium of $500 for their works, which the city expects to last about five years after being sprayed with an anti-graffiti veneer. Boxes too close to the street to be safely painted aren’t included in the program, which excludes about a quarter of Toronto’s boxes. The city is also mapping the work to produce a website directory of the project. “We see this as a tool for tourism,” says Zendel.
 
The 2016 deadline for artists who want to apply to paint a traffic signal box is April 26. 
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Lilie Zendel

CivicAction celebrates emerging and established leaders at MetroNext

On February 23, CivicAction presented two awards celebrating leaders, both established and emerging, in the GTA and Hamilton area.

CivicAction recognized Ratna Omidvar with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Civic Leadership for her work on inclusion and diversity in the area. Omidvar is the Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, where she oversees both DiverseCity onBoard and Hire Immigrants. Omidvar says, “I see this award as more wind in my sails for onBoard,” which connects new Canadians and visible minorities with mentors and volunteer boards positions.  “I take this award as a vote of confidence to keep walking on the path that I’ve carved out, and I take it as an exhortation to keep going,” says Omivdar, who says she was “gobsmacked” when she found out she would receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Omidvar, who came to Canada from India in 1981, has been previously awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario. She says she’s always been attracted to connecting lived experience to policy, and that as the world’s most diverse city, Toronto needs immigrants to help it prosper. “Our narrative is that people are attracted to our city from all over the world, and they live and stay here, and they work and go to school here. If you assume that systems and attitudes will just fall into place, you can wait for a very long time. Institutions are hard to adjust, and attitudes take a long time to shift.”  

CivicAction also celebrated Salima Rawji with MetroNext’s Emerging Leader Award. Rawji was a former co-chair of CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network, and a graduate of their DiverseCity Fellow program. She now works as Director of Development at Build Toronto, where her interest in community development and her knowledge of real estate combine to create livable, transit-friendly, commercially vital neighbourhoods. Build Toronto is responsible for local projects such as Islington Terrace, which will transform a 3.3 acre commuter lot into a vibrant home for 1,200 households.
 

Conference engages high-school students in urban planning issues

When Ryan Lo, a graduate student at McGill University’s School of Urban Planning, was deciding on what to do for his master’s research project, he knew he didn’t want to write a conventional paper.
 
Instead, he’s organizing a conference, called Tomorrow Starts Today, to educate and engage high-school students on urban planning issues.
 
Lo came up with the idea when he was volunteering with a youth leadership program. As a planner, he realized that young people didn’t have much exposure to urban planning in conventional school curriculum, even though the quality of urban planning affects their lives as much as anybody’s.
 
“The conference has a two-fold purpose—to educate young people about planning, urban design and public engagement, and to give them tangible ways to participate so they have the knowledge and the language to communicate and participate,” says Lo, who is hosting the conference at Ryerson University since he’s originally from the GTA and has connections here. “Often only adults or university students are targeted in engagement. High-school students may not be technically voters, but they’re still part of the community.”
 
Make that a three-fold purpose. Lo is also hoping to better learn how to present planning issues to young people and capture their contributions. “The research outcome is to have a report and some sort of conference toolkit. What went well, what are some of the ways that are effective in getting youth to listen and take action? Is it an interactive hands-on activity or a powerful speech? What drives their passion? I would like to share that research with the city.”
 
With 75 spots for participants and another 25 speakers, panelists and volunteers, Lo expects about a 100 people to show up this weekend.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Ryan Lo

Roberta L. Jamieson receives special YWCA Women of Distinction Award

Recognizing this year’s Women of Distinction, the Toronto YWCA awarded its President’s Award to First Nations leader Roberta L. Jamieson, only the third time that the special award has been given in the event’s 36-year history.
 
Jamieson has spent five decades advocating for change and justice for Indigenous people and Canada. “It’s very timely with the publishing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report which includes many, many recommendations for things she’s been working for through her whole career,” says YWCA CEO Heather M. McGregor. “We wanted to add our voice to the importance of this issue in Canadian society and her name sprang up when we were thinking about that.”
 
A Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, Jamieson is CEO of Indspire, an Indigenous-led charity advancing Indigenous achievement through education and training. She was the first First Nations woman law school graduate in Canada, the first woman ombudsman of Ontario, the first woman elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the first non-Parliamentarian to sit on a House of Commons committee, among her many other achievements.
 
While the President’s Award is only presented in exceptional circumstances, this year the YWCA also recognized seven others for their work in improving the lives of girls, women and marginalized groups, including student activist duo Tessa Hill, 15, and Lia Valente, 14, who were recognized as Young Women of Distinction, the youngest people ever to received the accolade.
 
“In fact, they really are girls, not women, but we made an exception this year because they made such a significant change in Ontario, showing that you can make a big difference at any age,” says McGregor. Hill and Valente successfully petitioned their school—and then the province—to include sexual consent discussions as part of the Health and Physical Education curriculum.
 
Other winners include Colleen Johnston, group head of direct channels in Technology, Marketing and Real Estate at TD Bank Group, in the Corporate Leadership category; Georgia Quartaro, dean of the Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies at George Brown College in the Education category; Reeta Roy, president and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, in the International Development category; Elizabeth Shilton, senior fellow at the Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace at Queen’s University in the Law and Justice category; and primary health giver and HIV/AIDS activist Dr. Cheryl Wagner in the Health category.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Heather M. McGregor

Parks Summit welcomes ideas from around the world

At last year’s Parks Summit, participants learned lessons on improving parks from other cities in Canada. At this year’s summit, which takes place on March 5, the agenda takes a more global perspective, with a keynote speaker from Medellín, Colombia, a once troubled city that’s reinvented itself, partly through its public spaces programs.

Keynote speaker David Escobar-Arango, former planner of “Library Parks” in Medellín, will talk about how the city—whose reputation for innovation has helped sweep aside a past where drug gangs was prevalent—worked closely with local communities to develop a series of public libraries set in city parks, many of them located in some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities.

“Its so amazing that cities that can be so different can learn from each other,” says Dave Harvey, executive director of Park People, which hosts the annual summit. “A key lesson from the dramatic turnaround in Medellín is that community rejuvenation started with improvements to parks and the public realm, and that the cornerstone for successful new public realm was strong community engagement and input at all points in the projects, as well as after the projects are complete.”

At the last summit, participants discussed how successes in other Canadian cities have been the result of strong partnerships between city park staff and community. That’s something Park People and more than 100 park friends groups across the have built on over the past year, working toward stronger and more productive relationships with city staff.

“It’s our sixth summit and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in community involvement in our parks and a much stronger sense of partnerships from the city as well,” says Harvey. “I think the summits have really helped spur the growth in park friends groups from 40 to over 100 in every ward in the city and helped inspire such interesting new park projects as the Under Gardiner.

The summit, expected to hit its 400-participant capacity, takes place between 1pm and 5:30pm on March 5 at Daniel’s Spectrum in Regent Park.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Dave Harvey

First annual Myseum exhibitions festival highlights TO's diversity

One of the biggest challenges for Myseum in putting together its inaugural Intersections festival, which runs from March 6 to 31, was the relative newness of the organization. Launched last May as a “catalyst to illuminate our city’s history, honour its diversity and contribute to shaping its future,” Myseum isn’t quite a household name yet. And it doesn’t have a physical home that people can visit.

“As a new organization with a different approach to a city museum, one of our challenges is getting the word out and getting residents of Toronto involved in the organization,” says Britt Welter-Nolan, Myseum’s director of public programs. “The project was initiated by an open call for proposals, so the exhibits and events are connected primarily through the theme of intersectionality, diversity, storytelling and an exploration of Toronto's multiple identities.”

For the first festival, designed to be an annual event, Myseum was able to attract cultural heavy-hitters like Jane’s Walk, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Gardiner Museum, the Power Plant, Evergreen Brick Works and Heritage Toronto, as well as organizations like She Moves Group, Queers in Your Ears, City of Toronto Archives, Black Future Month and Deluxo.

The intention is to “invite Torontonians to co-create exhibitions and events that help to tell our city's stories because our city's story isn't a singular one, it has infinite perspectives. What makes Toronto’s unique is that we are all made up of multiple stories and connections, that our identities are not fixed, but continually changing because of our interactions with each other and the city,” says Welter-Nolan.

The slate of events and exhibits should have something for everyone. :Some are family oriented, some are creative or musical, some are historical and some propose possible futures for our city. We encourage people to get out and visit the different areas of the city to better appreciate it.”

Myseum Intersections launches March 6—Toronto’s birthday— at the new QRC West Building at 362 Richmond Street West.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Britt Welter-Nolan

Ryerson's Lifeline Syria project exceeds expectations

When Ryerson University set out to develop a project to help people at the university address the humanitarian crisis in Syria, they set an initial goal of forming 10 groups to sponsor 10 families or 40 refugees. Six months after the July 2015 launch, the Lifeline Syria Challenge has created 75 sponsorship teams to sponsor 75 families or 300 refugees.

“We have more than 1,000 volunteers and have raised over $3 million,” says Wendy Cukier, vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson University, who led the initiative. “It has not just exceeded expectations, but anything we would have imagined possible.”

Initially conceived as a challenge to other universities drawing on Ryerson faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners, the scope expande to include OCAD University, York University and the University of Toronto, as well as private-sector partners, responded in kind raising money for the cause. Cukier says Ryerson is currently exploring with its partners what the next phase will look like. “We still have enormous pent up demand but lack the infrastructure to respond. We are hoping for funding to help grow our capacity but its not clear how much more we can do with existing resources,” she says.

As well as funding, the university community has provided some hands-on support. More than 70 students are assigned to work directly with sponsoring teams to support pre-arrival planning with some students providing settlement support. More than 50 students have been working to provide translation of written documents for welcome binders and on-going on-call interpretation/translation for family arrivals, and about 20 students are collaborating with the translation committee to create a “point and translate” guide that covers key medical terms in the welcome binders.

The project was modelled on Operation Lifeline, which helped privately sponsor and settle 60,000 Indochinese refugees in 1979-80.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Wendy Cukier
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