Tropicana celebrates 29 years of success


Canada’s largest Black social service agency is far behind the target it set four years ago of raising $2.5 million by its 30th anniversary in 2010. This is for the first phase of a new centre of excellence that young people, primarily, could use for social, cultural and economic development.

The executive director of the Tropicana Community Service Organization (TCSO), Sharon Shelton, told Share they have been unable to attract the funding they need because donors have made it clear they would not commit until a blueprint to design a building is formulated and the space is identified on which the organization intends to build the centre.

Shelton said the organization has raised nearly $100,000 in the past four years for the centre that will be built in Scarborough.

“Donors have said they would support us but only (when) they see a site that we will build on,” said Shelton, who has been with the organization for the past 21 years. “We now have the option of looking at space that we can expand on in order to satisfy interested donors or just continuing to fund-raise until we can come up with the money we need to acquire a building. We are in a tough situation right now.”

The TCSO staged a successful fundraiser last Saturday night at the Angus Glen Golf & Country Club to celebrate its 29th anniversary.

Jamaican-born former Ontario cabinet ministers, Dr. Alvin Curling, who worked closely with Tropicana’s founder Robert Brown on several youth initiatives, and Mary Anne Chambers were presented with the President’s and Community Builder awards respectively at the annual Charity Ball.

Chambers chalked up many outstanding accomplishments while she served as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and Minister of Children and Youth Services before leaving politics two years ago. Significant changes were made to the Private Career Colleges Act to provide enhanced protection for students and the largest multi-year investment in post-secondary education in almost 40 years was announced under her watch.

A week before she announced she was quitting politics, Chambers made a personal donation to the Imani mentorship program that matches students at West Hill Collegiate, Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School, Cedarbrae Collegiate and St. Margaret’s Middle School with mentors from the University of Toronto Scarborough campus’ Black Students Association.

The funding for the next five years will boost the program that’s intended to provide students with an opportunity to become the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education. At the time, Chambers said that was her parting gift to the community that supported her for the four years she was in politics.

“We can each be community builders simply by understanding that we each have something to share and by caring enough to share whatever that something might be with others,” she said in her acceptance speech. “Communities are built one person at a time when individuals are enabled to achieve their potential as contributing members of society, thereby maximizing the capacity and strengths of their collective abilities and, consequently, their communities.”

In her keynote address, Trey Anthony told of how she overcame stereotypes and other hurdles to become a successful actress, writer and producer of the ground-breaking urban comedy, ‘Da Kink in My Hair’, which is enjoying a second season on Global TV.

Brown, who died five years ago, established Tropicana, which became United Way’s first Black member agency in 1984. While enrolled at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, Brown and a few other students were assigned a project that involved the preparation of a needs assessment survey of a community in southern Ontario.

The group chose the then Borough of Scarborough and, in conducting the survey, discovered that young people in the area faced serious challenges. Determined to act, the team quickly moved to prepare an audited report of its findings and solicit broad support for the at-risk youths.

The TCSO was set up in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve disadvantaged youth and their families. Through its myriad diverse programs, the agency aims to increase the rate of self-employment for youth, improve access to culturally-appropriate counseling services and reduce the school drop-out rate among Black students.

Last year, Tropicana provided over 800 jobs for the nearly 14,000 clients it served and offered counseling and immigrant settlement services in 15 languages.

“Tropicana is recognized as a leader in governance and administration for not-for-profit agencies in Ontario,” noted the organization’s president, Dr. Gervan Fearon. “This leadership has allowed the organization to maintain its effectiveness even in these economically turbulent times.”

The three levels of government, along with the United Way of Greater Toronto, the Toronto Community Foundation, private donors and fundraising contribute to the organization’s operating budget of $8 million. Because most of the funding is program specific, the agency does not have the latitude to direct financial resources to problem areas youth and families may identify.

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