By ALISON ISAAC
At age 16, Elaine Robinson became a mother. She got married at age 22 and was divorced by 27. She completed her high school diploma when she was 30, and two years ago, she graduated from college.
“I’m passionate about this because this isn’t just talk for me,” Robinson said about the work she does in some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. “I’ve lived in (government) housing…so you can’t tell me good things don’t come out of there. I don’t want to hear that. And I want these youths to understand that, but it’s not going to come to you by just sitting down. Reach out and get the help you need.”
Robinson is a youth engagement co-ordinator for Involve Youth, an extension of Tropicana Community Services. Tropicana is a not-for-profit organization that was started in 1980 to respond to the needs of under-serviced families, particularly those from the Caribbean.
Robinson herself came up through Tropicana and was one of the organization’s first scholarship recipients. Now 22 years into her career as a youth support worker, she is working with Involve Youth on a number of youth-centered programs, including skill building activities, institutional learning field trips, intergenerational collaboration and various youth-led actions.
Robinson says it doesn’t just take a village to raise a child, it takes a healthy village. One of the ways in which to create a healthy village – or community – is by attacking the hopelessness seen in the youth; the idea that “we can’t have” and “we are not”.
“We offer them change. So, if you don’t like what you see in your community, are you willing to be an agent of change?” Robinson asked rhetorically. “We want to say to the youth, ‘we respect you, we are listening to you, and you are able to be a part of the change you want to see in your world.'”
Robinson is encouraging African-Canadian and other marginalized youth to take charge and take advantage of the programs offered by community service organizations. That’s why she is inviting youth and concerned parents/guardians to attend Tropicana’s open house with Involved Youth and the Steeles-L’Amoreaux Youth Empowerment (SLYE) network at Bridlewood Mall in Scarborough this Friday, June 26. Representatives from community service organizations and youth who have participated in their programs will be on hand between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“Pick, choose and refuse, but at least be a part of something,” Robinson said. “It’s never too late.”