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Toronto Public Library dedicates a work station to writers

Will the next great Canadian bestseller be written in the Toronto Public Library?

With its new writers room, the TPL is hoping that the space will deliver the resources and perhaps even the inspiration for writers in the midst of producing their next opus.

Part of the five-year $33-million renovation of Toronto Reference Library at Yonge north of Bloor, the space has work stations for four writers at a time on the condition that they commit to using the library to research their projects.

“We want to support writing and writers and we want to encourage writer who will make use of our collection,” says Janice Lavery, department head of Languages and Literature at the reference library. “We’d love it if somebody wrote a big famous book that became a bestseller. That would be fantastic. It would be like winning the lottery. But we’re happy if any writers who meet our criteria can use it.” Though the space isn’t aimed at students, the application process doesn’t judge the merits of projects.

Working writers who can demonstrate that accessing the collection would be useful to their endeavours can apply to use the room for four hours a day for a period of three months. As well as a bring-your-own-computer work space, the room has a small lounge where writers can mingle, perhaps to share ideas and frustrations. The room has natural light, wifi and electrical outlets. The library also has a room for its ongoing writer-in-residence program and a meeting room that can be used for readings and small gatherings.

Among the first half-dozen applicants, one is working on an environmental project, one is writing nonfiction while another is writing a book of fiction aimed at young adults.

Though this is the TPL’s first dedicated writers’ space, it’s an idea that’s been tried in other cities.


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Janice Lavery

 

Volunteer Toronto explores getting the best out of volunteers

With so many organizations depending on volunteers, it sometimes Toronto feels like a city run by people who are freely offering up their time and skills. Some organizations get the most out of their volunteers and make them feel valued, while others could use a little coaching about how to keep volunteers engaged.

At VECTor, Volunteer Toronto’s first conference, volunteer managers, executive directors and board members from around the region will gather to discuss and explore the impact of volunteering, how to engage communities and the future of volunteerism in Toronto. Organizers are hoping for more than 150 attendees at the March 11 event.

“We’ve never had a big event where people really have the opportunity to come together, make connections, learn about a lot of different things all in one day, all in one place and to really get inspired,” says Melina Condren, director of Engaging Organizations at Volunteer Toronto.

Through a series of workshops and presentations, including a keynote address from Ontario Trillium Foundation CEO Andrea Cohen Barrack, attendees will explore how to better connect with volunteers—and stay connected with them.

Canadians are known for their willingness to volunteer. But organizations need to make them feel they are achieving something if they want to attract volunteers and keep them coming back. Regardless of whether organizations are working with front-line volunteers tearing tickets at a film festival or high-powered board members, there are best practices that can help volunteers feel appreciated.

“If you ask people why they volunteer, the most common reason is they want to give back to the community and make a difference,” says Condren. “Volunteers want to make sure that they’re having a big impact and organizations need to communicate what that impact is going to be. They have to let them know how their role is contributing to the mission.”

The conference is part of a broader effort of Volunteer Toronto to reboot and take on a larger leadership role in connecting volunteers with the organizations that need them. The organization has relaunched its website and last December launched a series of leadership talks.


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Melina Condren

Egale launches new drop-in meal program for queer youth in crisis

When Egale Canada Human Rights Trust launched itsYouth OUTreach last spring, the organization was setting out to help LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and Two-Spirited) young people having a housing crisis.

With its new Out in the Kitchen program, the not-for-profit wants to make sure its target group has at least one free healthy, hot meal each week. The partnership with CRC at 40 Oak, which is providing the food and the food-safety skills, will also help create a feeling of community as the youth come together for a shared meal.

“We’d like everyone to participate in preparing the meal, but we also know there will be folks who will come who are just interested in the hot meal and won’t be interested in the cooking. That’s an option, but the goal is getting as many people involved in the cooking and the learning experiences as possible,” says T Thomason, Egale’s youth outreach coordinator.

Thomason expects between 10 and 20 young people for the inaugural meal. “You don’t see much diversity of food at drop-in meals so we’re hoping to offer a range of options,” they say, which includes vegetarian meals.
do. It’s not a program that you attend, it’s a program that you create,” says Thomason.

The biggest challenge was creating a program that reflected what the young people themselves wanted to see. “We wanted to make sure we create a space where the youth have a lot of choices, where they have a say and it’s spearheaded by their interests—what they want to learn and and do. It’s not a program that you attend, it’s a program that you create,” says Thomason.

LGBTQ2S youth account for as much as 21 per cent of Toronto youth who find themselves homeless. That’s at least in part because coming out as queer—or being found out to to queer—can trigger major family conflicts. Many report feeling uncomfortable accessing the city’s mainstream housing services. Youth OUTreach can provide housing and other crisis support, as well referrals to safe and affirming community, legal, health and employment services.

Out in the Kitchen takes place every Tuesday evening at 40 Oak Street, from 5pm to 8pm.


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: T Thomason

Toronto museums look for new ways to capture our imagination

Bigger media presence, more collaboration with artists, more engaging programming and a larger role as community resources.

Those are just a few of the changes Larry Ostola, director of Toronto’s Museums and Heritage Services, would like to see as he and his team set out on a five-year strategic plan to keep their 10 museums and 40-some historic sites relevant in a city that’s increasingly shiny, new and future-focused.

“I really do hope that people will look at these places in a new way,” says Ostola, who took on the job in May after 20 years at Parks Canada in Ottawa , where he had a wide range of responsibilities for national historic sites, built heritage and World Heritage. Toronto has a strong portfolio of properties and programs, including its signature site, Fort York. But like many other cities, it’s been struggling with keeping the public engaged with history and heritage. A stronger media presence and more collaboration with partners are just some of the ways Ostola would like to reach out to a variety of Toronto communities.

“You can define community a couple of ways. There’s the geographic area immediately surrounding these places—do the residents of these places feel welcome? Are we catering to their needs? Are we making these places available for their needs like community meetings?” says Ostola. “There are also communities of interest. Are there ways we can invite those people in to make them feel welcome as well?” Newcomers, for example, might have a particular curiosity about the history of their chosen home that can be better served by the city’s historic sites.

Although technology can help engage people with history, particularly younger people, there’s a delicate balance between being wired and being authentic.

“The two are not contradictory. It’s how you do it. When I was a kid going to these places, it was, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to see another demonstration by a blacksmith.’ That was something we were familiar with that we didn’t find very dynamic. You could speculate now that we’ve come full circle and that kind of experience can be seen as dynamic because of our familiarity with technology.” And our lack of familiarity with blacksmithing.

Ostola will talk about some of the possible new directions for the city’s museums and historic sites at the second annual Howland lecture at Lambton House on Thursday, January 15 at 7:30pm.


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Larry Ostola

Regent Park Athletic Grounds ice rink comes to life

Regent Park heard the sound of sticks on ice again on January 3 at the official opening of the Regent Park Athletic Grounds ice rink. The old one wasn’t in the best of condition.

“The best thing was the look on the residents’ faces. It was great seeing that this was the first step to something that they asked for and hearing firsthand from them that they were so proud that we had listened,” says Michael Bartlett, executive director of MLSE Foundation, which since 2012 has contributed $2 million to the project, which will eventually include a new outdoor basketball court, running track and a soccer pitch that can also be used for cricket. “Improvements to the rink include new lighting, dasherboards and fencing. The fieldhouse also received a new roof, windows and doors, a renovated warming/change area, two accessible washrooms and a staff and storage area,” states a news release.

“The thing I’ve always enjoyed about the Regent Park project is that the community actually put its hands up as not having a place to play. When the revitalization process was happening, residents were very appreciative of better living conditions and better amenities like the swimming structure and grocery store and better banking, but they identified that places to play and structured sporting environments still weren't available and that’s what differentiates a have community from a have-not community these days,” says Bartlett.

The partnership amongst The Daniels Corporation, Toronto Community Housing, residents and funding partners is one of the most collaborative that MLSE has been involved in.

“It is truly a community-minded project where we let the community shape what the investment looks like. We’re providing what they’ve asked for rather than just showing up in a community with our version of the solution, with a bunch of corporate logos slapped on it. That’s something we’re very proud of,” says Bartlett.

Keeping the facility busy with quality programming is the next issue on the agenda.


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Michael Bartlett

Villaways youth show off their hopes for housing redevelopment project

The young people living in Villaways Community Housing near Sheppard and Leslie know for sure that they’re going to eventually have to move out of their homes, which will be knocked down and rebuilt as part of a revitalization project slated to take place between 2017 and 2019. Maybe they’ll come back to a nicer place or maybe they find themselves living elsewhere.

A diorama created by a group of 28 Villaways youth, aged four to 15, aims to look past all the uncertainty to offer a vision of what they’d like to see in their new community. The Art Starts Up&Rooted project, which took three months of work to complete (and which we featured in our still-current roundup of local events worth checking out), will be on display in the City Hall rotunda until the end of this week. Participants worked with artists Virginia Tran and Douglas Hurst Virginia Tran to create the impressive 6-by-9-foot three-dimensional piece of art.

“Just the time they took and the details—action figures, a picnic table with a little hamburger made of our plasticine—there's a lot of work to it,” says project manager Carleen Robinson. Along with colourful homes, the vision surprisingly includes a lake with fish and a pier. Not necessarily part of the redevelopment plans, which will see the 121 rental units replaced an and additional 642 market units and other amenities added. But you never know.

“One of the things I hope they got out of that project is that once you put your mind to something, anything and everything is possible,” says Robinson. “You have a group of 20-plus kids and some think, ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ But now their work is sitting in a place like City Hall. It's a very big thing for them.”

Villaways has been a particularly isolated community. As part of the revitalization, Art Starts has been providing a series of programs that use creativity to get residents to think about the transition they’ll be going through.

“There’s a lot of anxiety right now because they don’t know when or where they’re going to move,” says Robinson. “We just want them to know it’ll be okay.”


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Carleen Robinson
House photos: Kevin Wu

New downtown food bank devotes itself to folks who donít eat meat

Vegetarians and vegans who find themselves in need of nutritious food will have a new place to turn to next year, with the launch of the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank.
 
Currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign, the new not-for-profit will operate out of the Yonge Street Mission, focusing on distributing fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as packaged foods that are free of animal products.
 
“Vegetarian and vegan people are underserved at other food banks,” says founder Matt Noble. “There aren’t a lot of fresh foods at regular food banks in the first place—and what they would call fresh food is often eggs, dairy and meat. When they do have fresh produce, everybody wants it. Focusing on vegetarian and vegan people, we’ll have a good idea of what will be good for them so they don’t have to worry about ingrdients. And because we’re serving those people, we’re lessening the strain on the other food banks.”
 
The GTA had been served by the Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank (OVFB), which had distribution locations in North York and Scarborough. Noble had been talking with them about opening a downtown veggie food bank when OVFB founder Malan Joseph died in 2013. The OVFB has since ceased operation. Working with his own team and a member of Joseph’s team, Noble decided to launch a new Toronto-focused organization. For more than a year, they have been working with wholesalers, farmers and local restauranteurs to source food.
 
Noble’s grandmother works with the Yonge Street Mission, a connection that lead to a home and a partnership for the new enterprise. Since much of the vegetarian food will be perishable, what they aren’t able to use at their monthly or twice monthly distribution will be used by the Mission, which operates its own food bank and daily meal program. “It wouldn’t be able to happen without them, for sure, and they’re helping their people get healthier food by giving me the space,” says Noble.
 
The January 31 opening will be something of a pilot to help determine the size and the ongoing schedule of the food bank. Noble figures it will be monthly or bimonthly to start. “We are feeling it out. We don’t know if we’ll get people who used to use the Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank, people who use the Yonge Street Mission or who knows who else finds out about it,” he says.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Matt Noble
Photo: Mark Kamstra

New St. Lawrence Market area artwork reminds us where the city used to end

Nowadays, it’s more than a kilometre’s walk from Church and Front to the shore of Lake Ontario. But less than a century ago, the corner was right where the water met the land.
 
A new art installation unveiled this month celebrates the city’s historic shorefront. Evocative limestone steps hint at what might have been, while a glowing glass orb set on a bronze tripod evokes a surveyors’ instrument used in creating the city. Called Shoreline Commemorative, the work by Toronto-based artist Paul Raff is a public art contribution by Concert Properties, the developer of The Berczy, a 13-storey condo on the intersection’s southwest corner. The brick wall to the south is inscribed with the text: “For 10,000 years this was the location of Lake Ontario’s shoreline. This brick wall stands where water and land met, with a vista horizon.”
 
“It’s about the ongoing evolution and transformation of the city, a remarkably fast evolution and a remarkably massive transformation,” says Raff. “To think that less than 100 years ago, standing on that site, you’d be standing on the shoreline looking at the lake is very difficult for most people to imagine.”
 
It was in the 1920s that the massive waterfront landfill took place. Though he’s studied Toronto’s urban geography for years, Raff did extensive research before he came up with the idea for the installation, working with a writer to go through old documents, maps, photos and stories. Raff realized that not only was the site the shoreline for 200 years of the city’s urban history, it was the shoreline for 10,000 years of natural history and thousands of years of Aboriginal history. “I emptied my mind of ideas of old Toronto—Victorian and pre-Victoria architecture and old industrial wharfs—and thought about 10,000 years of shoreline,” says Raff. “I’m trying to make things that are invisible visible.”
 
Tucked into a small site in a niche in the Berczy development, the piece doesn’t feel like a typical piece of public art. Nor does it feel like a typical work by Raff, who has worked on national and international projects including the multi-award winning Cascade House. “It’s always hard when it’s still a drawing on paper to say, This is an awesome idea, because the fact of the matter, I have no idea how it’s going to come off and how people are going to react. The unveiling was a pretty happy day to see people touching it and walking around it and getting it and appreciating it.”
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Paul Raff

Volunteering isnít just good for your community: Report

With one of the highest volunteer rates in the developed world, Canada has a lot of people eager to donate their time. And many of them experience benefits above and beyond feeling good about themselves.
 
A report released this month by TD Economics suggests that Canadians over 15 gave the equivalent of $51.1 billion in unpaid hours in 2010 (the most recent year for which Statistics Canada has data). Our charitable giving, though an impressive $10 billion, was only one-fifth of that. Canada’s volunteer rate has continued to rise since 2004, with 47 per cent of Canadians now doing some kind of volunteering.
 
“That surprised me because in other countries like the US, during a recession, people tend to give less, they don’t give as much of their time, maybe because they have other priorities,” says Brian DePratto, the economist who worked on the report. “But that’s not what we found in Canada. It speaks to the Canadian character. We’re not the kind of people to give up on a commitment for any reason at all.”
 
Although the statistics are not broken down by city, Ontario’s overall volunteer rate increased by one percentage point to 48 per cent between 2007 and 2010—slightly above the Canadian average. Rates were highest in Saskatchewan, where 58 per cent of people over 15 do some volunteering.
 
Hard-core volunteers give a disproportionate number of hours. Just 10 per cent of volunteers dedicate more than 390 hours per year, yet these volunteers are responsible for 53 per cent of the total hours.
 
Although “wanting to make a contribution” was the motivator for 93 per cent of those surveyed, some people do see more tangible benefits from their volunteer efforts. About 22 per cent of volunteers surveyed cited improving job opportunities, which lines up with a US study that suggests that volunteering is associated with a 27 per cent higher probability of employment.
 
“For the many currently unemployed or underemployed Canadians, volunteering can help keep skills sharp while helping to get them back to work,” states the TD report.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Brian DePratto

Artscape establishes West Coast beachhead

For more than a decade, cities from around the world have been coming to Toronto Artscape for advice on creating creative places. Though the not-for-profit responsible has been providing artist live-work spaces here since 1986, its Distillery Studios project—and more recently Wychwood Barns and Daniels Spectrum at Regent Park—have made it a go-to authority on how to inject arts and culture into enviable real-estate locations.
 
But with this month’s launch of BC Artscape, the organization has established its first major foothold outside its city of origin. With $900,000 in start-up capital from the City of Vancouver, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Vancity Community Foundation and “unnamed sources,” BC Artscape will operate as an affiliate organization, with its own board and president, but with management assistance and support from Toronto Artscape.
 
Within the next year or so, BC Artscape will launch one of six or seven possible inaugural projects somewhere in BC. Although the details are still tentative (and otherwise under wraps), the project is expected to be bigger than 30,000 square feet, establishing a hub of arts and creativity for its environs and generating revenue for Artscape.
 
CEO Tim Jones says the Artscape model, which uses partnership and innovative financing to make artsy spots viable, exports well. Just as each Toronto project adapts to the needs of its neighbourhood, BC Artscape will adapt to serve its own communities out west.
 
“We try to be incredibly sensitive to the local situation in every project we take on,” says Jones. “Here in Toronto, whether we’re working on Toronto Island or Regent Park, those communities have their own pulses and cultural distinctiveness. Obviously the real estate market in Vancouver especially is a huge challenge. Creating space for specific activities is a big issue. It’s a very expensive city to live in, so the artist live-work experience we have will be especially important out there,” says Jones.
 
Artscape had been working with the City of Vancouver for seven or eight years, helping it develop priorities for its culture plan. When large-scale projects weren’t emerging there, Artscape decided it might be able to play a more active role.
 
Launching the BC affiliate has also made Artscape think about how it operates here in Toronto. “We’ve been forced to focus on our role and document it, helping improve our process and the methodology,” says Jones. Rather than launching solely in Vancouver, the West Coast affiliate has embraced a broader a provincial focus, signaling Artscape’s own growing ambitions.
 
“Looking at our expansion plans in BC, we realized Artscape in Toronto can and should be playing a more regional role,” he says.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Tim Jones

Online exhibition celebrates new Canadians who are giving back

A new online exhibition featuring the stories of new Canadians who volunteer in their communities demonstrates that you don’t need a long history in the country to be able to start giving back.
 
Not only does Citizens in Action encourage recent immigrants to get involved in their new country through volunteering, it reminds all Canadians that newcomers bring more than just work-related skills with them.
 
“We have met so amazing individuals, we wanted to share what they’re doing with the entire country,” says Jess Duerden, ‎director of communications at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. The national charity aims to accelerate new citizens’ integration into Canadian life and decided the website was a great way to showcase how well many of them are doing. “It does a lot to show that new citizens are engaged and doing their part and remind people, 'As a matter of fact, perhaps I should be doing more volunteering in my life too.'”
 
Considering that the GTA is such a strong magnet for immigrants, it’s not surprising that several of the first 10 volunteer stories featured on Citizens in Action live in the region. One Danforth resident brings art to her local alleyways, while another Torontonian is a leader at an English-as-a-second-language café. A Mississauga resident volunteers at a soup kitchen. Though these stories are exemplary, Duerden says the website welcomes people across the country to share their own stories in words and video, giving the website a much longer life as a resource and source of inspiration.
 
The institute works with a lot of new Canadians; more than 150,000 have signed up for its cultural access pass, which provides complimentary admission to more than 1,000 of cultural attractions across the country. Talking to its members, the institute realized that there are some common themes about how newcomers find their way to volunteering.
 
“A lot of people start by volunteering within their respective communities, their friends and families and the people they know,” says Duerden. “But once they started to build their networks, they looked elsewhere. A majority of the new citizens that we interviewed specifically sought out volunteer initiatives that would help them expand their skills, introduce them to Canadian culture and simply meet new people.”
 
Writer:  Paul Gallant
Source: Jess Duerden

Race to Reduce nearing four-year target for energy conservation

At this year’s Race to Reduce award ceremony, CivicAction announced it was closing in on its goal of collectively reducing participants’ energy use by 10 per cent over four years.
 
Three years into the friendly competition to reduce energy consumption by commercial landlords and tenants, participants have collectively reduced energy use by 7.9 per cent. “The numbers show the desire for action is there, and that if you give people the tools and motivation, they can drive real change in their own businesses and for the Toronto region,” said CivicAction CEO Sevaun Palvetzian at the December 4 event.
 
The past year also saw more buildings participating, with an 11 per cent increase in the number of buildings registered. There’s now more than 69 million square feet entered in competition—more than 42 per cent of the Toronto region’s office space. Landlords and tenants work together to save energy, employing an array of strategies ranging from major building upgrades to simply encouraging staff to turn off lights when there’s no one in a room.
 
Cadillac Fairview’s TD South Tower won the award for Building Performance for Greatest Energy Reduction for a property between 500,000 and one million square feet, beating out the competition and the other five buildings in the Toronto-Dominion Centre. The South Tower won, in part, because the landlord optimized the building’s boiler to make it more efficient and installed dimmable, motion-detection emergency lighting in the stairwells. But in all of the TD towers, Cadillac Fairview has introduced a variety of energy-saving programs, including a daytime cleaning program, which saves on the cost of lights and HVAC needed for nighttime cleaning. By defining its normal hours of operation more strictly, the building also saves on after-hours lighting and heating costs. Efforts have paid off: South building used 8.5 per cent less energy in 2013 than in 2012.
 
“We have been at this for quite some time and have made a lot of progress,” says David Hoffman, general manager of the Toronto-Dominion Centre for The Cadillac Fairview Corporation.
 
So far, Race to Reduce conservation has achieved the equivalent of taking approximately 2,700 cars off the road and put $7.6 million back into participants’ pockets.
 
The complete list of winners is available here.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: David Hoffman

PrideHouse launches to queer up Toronto's Pan Am Games

After Russia’s remarkably gay-unfriendly Winter Olympics in 2014, Toronto’s Pan American Games are aiming to set out a rainbow-coloured welcome mat for queer athletes and sports fans.
 
Last week The 519 Church Street Community Centre unveiled its plans for PrideHouse, which will act as a hub for LGBTQ athletes and fans—and perhaps even couch potatoes—to celebrate Toronto’s games next summer. The 519 itself will become a pavilion for lounging, networking and other kinds of programming, while the Church Street village will host parties, athletic and cultural activities during the games.
 
“We’re trying to make sure these games are the most inclusive of all Olympic-level games ever,” said Shawn Sheridan, chair of the board of directors of OutSport Toronto, one of about 15 partner organizations working together on the PrideHouse project. “We come from a tradition that started back in 2010 in Vancouver [during the Winter Olympics] where there was a pavilion where people could really feel welcome and part of what’s going on regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
 
In the lead up to the Pan Am and Parapan Games, 40 ambassadors will attend community events, festivals and information fairs, as well as engage in school-based outreach projects to let people all across the GTA know that sports and LGBT people are not mutually incompatible and, in fact, can get along quite nicely. More than three years in the making, PrideHouse has dedicated staff working with more than $1 million in funding to demonstrate to the 41 participating countries just how inclusive Toronto can be. Eleven of those countries have laws against LGBT people.
 
“It’s not always about elite performance sports,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, speaking at the launch reception. The only out lesbian on city council, she’s also councillor for Ward 27, which includes the village. “Who doesn’t want to celebrate these sexy athletes? But we also want to create a people’s legacy” of inclusion and participation after the games are over.
 
Glen Murray, MPP for Toronto Centre, was the country’s first openly gay mayor when Winnipeg hosted the 1999 Pan Am Games—the last time the games were hosted in Canada. Back then, after doing an interview with a Portuguese-language TV station whose reporter was fascinated with an openly gay mayor, Murray received a deluge of emails around the world—including two from gay people who have since gone into politics themselves.
 
Those games “introduced me as an out queer person to a whole hemisphere,” Murray told those gathered at The 519.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Shawn Sheridan

10,000 new Canadians served through TRIEC

When Enrique Enriques immigrated with his wife and daughter to Toronto from Philippines in 2003, the family figured out much of how Canada works on their own. “I didn’t know the TTC was exact fare,” Enriques laughs now, “I was giving the driver a $20 bill and waiting for change.”
 
Once they got settled, though, Enriques decided he wanted to make things easier for other newcomers to Canada.  He started volunteering with the Mentoring Partnership at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), giving career and cultural advice and support to recent immigrants. This week, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the program, Enriques was one of the volunteers recognized for mentoring 10 or more newcomers.
 
“I’m very honoured,” says Enriques, now an information technology analyst with the City of Toronto. “You can call it giving back. But I really wanted an opportunity to share my experiences with newcomers to make their transition into the workforce and into Canada smoother than how I experienced it. I share their success, not that I have anything to do with it, but it makes me feel good. I learn more from them than them from me.”
 
Over the history of the program, more than 10,000 skilled immigrants have been matched with leaders in their professions; more than 75 per cent of them have found employment in their field within 12 months. During the three month match-up, mentors provide career leads and act as a sounding board for their mentees.
 
What’s Enriques’ favourite piece of advice when newcomers are feeling discouraged about getting their first professional job in Canada? They should think about what brought them to Canada in the first place. “Go back to the day when you got the letter from the Canadian government accepting your application. Remember how you felt. That brings them back to how excited they were and motivated they were to come to this country,” he says. 


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Enrique Enriques

Momentum building for youth homeless plan in York Region

If we tend to think of homelessness as primarily an urban problem, a new report on youth homelessness in the York Region shows how the problem affects all kinds of communities. And how the solutions also be outside the core.
 
“Too many young people have to leave the community because they and their families are not getting the supports they need,” states Leaving Home, a report released last week, based on interviews with 60 young people living in York Region. “When a young person leaves their community and moves to the streets of Toronto or another big city, the consequences can be dire. Health worsens and the risk of victimization and exploitation increases, making it harder and harder to escape homelessness.”
 
The report, authored by five researchers under the guidance of lead author Stephen Gaetz, suggests that the region may be particularly well suited to deal with homelessness before young people move to the “big city.” Schools, peer support systems and community organizations can come up with close-to-home solutions that may be better suited to getting young people back on track and into stable lives. Political will can make up for the existing lack of resources.
 
“You can go from being stuck to being innovative really quickly,” says Gaetz, an anthropology professor at York University. “If you look at the communities that done the best at homelessness in Canada, if you look at them 10 years ago, they look like just any other place. That can happen in York Region, too.”
 
Gaetz says there’s growing awareness of the problem of youth homelessness—and a growing willingness to do something about it. He’s optimistic that major players like the United Way of York Region are prepared to work collaboratively to come up with a plan to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness in the region. The report calls for an integrated approach with coordinated engagement by all levels of government, a positive youth development model and increased information sharing amongst those working on the issue.
 
With a population of more than one million spread across nine suburban and rural municipalities, York Region provides an interesting case study. The region has only 115 shelter beds compared to Toronto’s 3,800 beds—8.9 beds per 100,000 people compared to 710 beds.
 
“York Region doesn’t have a robust emergency response in place, but if you want to look at opportunities, it creates a blank slate for what to do,” says Gaetz. “In lots of cities, there can be resistance from those use to doing things one way. York Region can build on strengths in the community without having to undo things that have been problematic in the past. I see leaders all over the region who want to do something differently.”
 
That might include better support for families, assistance for people with mental health and substance abuse problems and more youth employment opportunities.


Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Stephen Gaetz
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