When Ontario’s Health Promotion & Sports Minister Margarett Best announced last Friday at a press conference that Tropicana Community Services Organization (TCSO) would receive $2 million in provincial funding, administration coordinator Sylvia Waldron burst into tears.
As the second longest serving full-time office employee Waldron, more than most, grasped the significance of the good news.
At the 25th anniversary celebration in May 2005, the Scarborough-based agency launched a building fund to raise $2.5 million in five years to erect a Centre of Excellence. However, faced with fundraising challenges in a soft economy, Canada’s largest Black social service agency struggled to raise close to $600,000 which was well short of the target to acquire a new facility to meet their needs.
“When I heard the minister say we were getting $2 million, I just could not hold back my emotions,” said Waldron who has been with the organization since October 1990. “Those tears you saw were honest tears of joy and excitement. For so long I have been praying that we would get an adequate home and to hear it’s finally going to happen is so great. This is an overwhelming moment for me.”
The major capital grant over two years is part of the province’s Building Together Plan that’s part of Ontario’s long-term infrastructure strategy.
“This will allow Tropicana to move three of its locations under one roof in Scarborough,” said Best. “From your digital arts and technology centre to your daycare programs and the countless community events and learning programs, your success has you bursting at the seams. You have outgrown your physical space.
“It’s truly a pleasure to be among people who care so much about children and youth and who work diligently every day to help them reach their fullest potential.”
The new 25,000 square feet building will include counselling rooms, a childcare centre, computer labs, classrooms, a gymnasium and dance and recording studios.
“Our government is making this investment because we are cognizant of the need for more space to better serve your clients,” said Best. “We also know that by updating our provincial infrastructure overall, we are ensuring the province remains strong and competitive for years to come…This is another example of collaboration of governments, community agencies and families working together to make amazing things happen.”
With soaring unemployment, Tropicana served 22,600 clients in 2010 which was an increase of nearly 9,000 from the previous year.
“The provincial funding is a big boost for us and it’s going to get us our new building,” said executive director, Sharon Shelton. “We have simply run out of space to continue to do the things we want to do for the benefit of the community.”
As part of the funding requirements, Tropicana is obliged to purchase a building by the end of the fiscal year in March and complete renovations by March 31, 2013.
With a $10 million budget, the agency runs almost 30 programs with a full-time staff of 75 and a large part-time and volunteer workforce.
TCSO president Carmen James-Henry said the organization is in the process of looking for appropriate space.
“It has to be in our catchment area and it has to be easily accessible,” she said. “We are really excited with this new development and we will be busy in the next few weeks working to identify space.”
Tropicana was founded by the late Robert Brown in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve disadvantaged youth and their families in east Scarborough. Through its diverse programs, the agency aims to increase employment opportunities for young people, improve success to culturally appropriate counselling services and reduce the school dropout rate among Black students.