Community engagement has been an integral component of Tasheka Mason’s life since migrating from Jamaica six years ago.
Through the Tropicana Community Service Organization’s (TCSO) summer jobs program, she worked with Elevated Grounds, which uses the performing arts to increase and promote mental health awareness among young people.
Mason also served as a TCSO youth co-ordinator and a Community Empowering Enterprises advocate before joining Redemption Reintegration Services as its board chair. She is the co-founder of Healin’ Scars, a youth-led organization that provides a platform for young people to showcase their artistic talents.
In addition, she’s a member of the first Premier Council on Youth Opportunities, established to provide advice on how best to improve the delivery and design of government programs and services for young people.
Reporting to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Children & Youth Services, Teresa Piruzza, the 15-member council is engaging youth, young professionals and community partners to learn about specific challenges and share ideas about how to best support youth, including the development of a multi-year Ontario Youth Strategy to improve youth outcomes.
Mason’s ability to build relationships with her peers and community members and her advocacy for increased opportunities for Afro-Diasporic and other racialized young people has been recognized with a Youth Challenge Fund (YCF) Legacy Award.
“This honour means a lot because I have a passion for working with young people,” said Mason, who is one of 11 siblings.
Nation Cheong, the United Way of Greater Toronto director of youth initiatives, said Mason deserves the award.
“She embodies the passion and commitment that is needed to become a change agent,” said the former YCF director of community engagement and grants. “She functions easily with her peers, adults and organizations and she sees herself as a leader.”
Mason, who attended Camperdown High School in Jamaica, also enjoys dancing and acting. She graduated from Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute and recently completed social service studies at Seneca College. She plans to pursue her Master’s next year.
The YCF was launched in February 2006 to create opportunities and support community ideas for young people in Toronto’s 13 designated priority neighbourhoods. The provincial government invested $15 million and matched private contributions up to an additional $15 million. The United Way of Greater Toronto leveraged the additional provincial matching funds by raising $15.8 million through the donations of generous philanthropists.
Over the last seven years, close to $42.5 million has been invested in 111 unique youth-led initiatives in the city’s disadvantaged communities. Nearly $27 million of the $42.5 million was allocated to 17 legacy initiatives to develop youth-dedicated space to be governed by community-based collaborative governance models that have a strong youth-led and youth-driven component.
With the closure of the YCF office last year, United Way of Greater Toronto is supporting YCF’s ongoing work, spirit and approach.
“It’s particularly important to acknowledge excellence, success and the embodiment of keeping the spirit alive,” said United Way of Greater Toronto president and chief executive officer, Susan MacIssac. “The YCF is not just about making significant change. It’s about transformation and that’s something that will be ongoing. I want to say that we are committed. I am very proud of the fact that we have brought it in house. I think it’s critical that it’s embedded in the work we do.”
The YCF legacy is continuing through annual awards honouring Afro-Diasporic youth, an adult ally or volunteer and an institution.
Harriet Tubman Community Organization’s executive director, Ekua Walcott, who in 2000 graduated with a social work degree from Ryerson University and a Master’s two years later from York University and the youth-led Success Power Opportunity Teamwork Organization (SPOT) – a 3,700 square foot arts and technology centre in the Malvern community – are the recipients of the Adult Ally and Institutional Awards, respectively.
Ontario College of Arts & Design second-year environmental and graphic design student, Olayide Madamidola, who migrated from Nigeria with his family at age six, created the new awards that will be presented tonight at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front St. E., starting at 6 p.m.