In the wake of former diplomat Kay McConney’s reminder that Barbadian organizations in Canada are losing their relevance and ability to attract young people, Barbados House Canada Inc. has announced that it is restructuring to service the needs of youths.
The organization, which in its infancy was dedicated to the establishment of a community centre to provide social and recreational services for Barbadian and other Caribbean citizens in the Greater Toronto Area, has been in existence for the last 23 years.
“We believe we are now ready to move the organization to that next level,” said founding member, Reynold Austin, at last week’s annual general meeting in Mississauga. “Over two decades later, we are faced with a generational gap where those that we targeted at the beginning are no longer youths anymore and those who were our fervent supporters are now retired. Hence, we have to take a critical look at our mandate and where we want the organization to be in the next 10 years.”
Barbados House has enlisted the assistance of Carl Cadogan to help it chart a new course.
A YMCA Greater Toronto vice-president for 15 years, Cadogan was also the executive director of Polycultural Immigrant & Community Services and the Nokee Kwe Occupational Skill Development Inc. which serves the Aboriginal community in southwest Ontario, and program director for the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) and the Canadian Living Association.
Last April, he assumed the role of chief executive officer at the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada based in London, Ontario.
“We need to get this organization moving again and that means it has to be active in the community,” said Cadogan, who created a youth mentoring program and managed 18 community and employment programs in 15 locations across the city while working with the YMCA. “How we are going to engage and connect young people and serve seniors are the priorities.”
Cadogan said that generating revenue to employ a small office staff is also at the top of his list.
“At the moment, there are volunteers who have put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” said Cadogan. “We need to recruit a staff to drive the work of the organization.”
The organization, which has maintained an office in Scarborough since its existence, was launched at the height of systemic discrimination against Blacks in the early 1990s.
“Using the Stephen Lewis report of 1992 as a backdrop, we were not only able to get our charitable status in 1993, but we also applied to the Ministry of Social Services & Citizenship for funding to erect a community centre – Barbados House – in Toronto,” said Austin. “After two years of several challenges with the application process, we received a positive response to the $2 million in funding we requested to purchase the land to build the community centre in the Scarborough area.”
The organization was devastated when the Conservatives replaced the New Democrats in the province and promptly nixed the funding for the centre.
“In political terms, that meant we had to start the process all over,” said Austin. “We took a fall, but we did not stay down. We got up, brushed ourselves off and continued in the game. We believed that while you may be hurting, it’s better to be hurting and in the game than be hurting on the sidelines.”
Over the years, the organization has provided weekend tutoring to young people, outfitted Barbadian schools with computers and other educational resources and shipped dozens of wheelchairs to the eastern Caribbean island.
Barbados House has also presented hundreds of dollars’ worth of bursaries and scholarships and donated several special awards in the past 17 years.
“We have been working and doing things in the community quietly,” said founding member, Covey Carter. “We are still here and we plan to be for a very long time.”
Last Saturday, the organization held its 13th annual golf tournament which is a major fundraiser.
In addition to Austin and Carter, the original board comprised Basil Blackman and Anita Quintine and the late Gordon Bynoe and Dr. Kenneth Searles.