Change is coming to Chalkfarm and Godwin Larbi is proud to be part of it.
Born and raised in the four-tower building complex near Jane Street and Wilson Avenue, the 20-year-old is a program leader with Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services, which has collaborated with four partners to set up a children and youth empowerment centre.
Located on the ground floor of 160 Chalkfarm Drive, the centre was officially opened last week.
“What is happening here today represents change in a good way,” said Larbi, who will use the money from this full-time job to enter Ryerson University next year to pursue a teaching career. “Through the programs here, young people now have a chance to learn self-discipline and how to be better in school. I have seen all the negative stuff, but now we are moving in the right direction and I am so happy to be part of that process. This is a good day.”
Fed up with a string of violent crimes three years ago, residents made it clear they wanted a facelift for their community that should include a space for children to be engaged in recreation and other after-school activities.
“This was made very loud to us,” said Jamaican-born Morris Beckford, the executive director of Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services, a multi-service community development organization operating neighbourhood centres in Chalkfarm, Jane & Finch and Falstaff. “Of the nearly 4,000 residents in these four buildings, I would say that about 40 per cent are kids.”
With the support of Greenwin Inc., Literature for Life, the Believe to Achieve Organization and the Oaks Revitalization Association, Beckford and his team delivered the Spider’s Web Children & Youth Empowerment centre, replete with a computer literacy room, reading space, a community kitchen and a boxing gym and fitness centre.
“This is a dream come true,” said broadcaster and former boxer Charles “Spider” Jones, whose Believe to Achieve Organization was instrumental in securing the ring and other boxing equipment. “It’s fantastic when you could have centres where young people could go instead of having them hanging out on the street and being seduced by crime.
“The kids need to see options and know that there is another way through education and skilled trades. They can’t do it on their own when they are at a young age. They need to be in a safe environment where there are mentors who can instil values and work ethic and put them on a path to make good choices.”
Jones talks from experience.
As a gang member and convicted felon trapped in the criminal justice web without an education and employable skills for much of his youth, he turned his life around at an advanced age to fulfil his dream of becoming a broadcaster.
Encouraged by his wife, who told him he would work for “chump change” for the rest of his life if he did not secure a decent job, the Grade Five dropout and three-time Golden Glove boxing champion returned to the classroom at age 31 to become an honour student, radio talk show host, author, motivational speaker and Premier of Ontario Award winner for outstanding achievement in the Arts.
“I always say that education is the great liberator,” said Jones. “That, however, takes time and effort. We have to teach our kids how to set goals and stay on track. These kids are not born into opportunity. We want to teach them how to create their own opportunity through education and good mentorship…This centre is where they can be empowered. This is crime prevention. I spent seven years in jail and I know that when you follow that path, you end up behind bars or in a grave.”
School program coordinator, Adam Ali, said the centre is a welcomed addition to the community.
“I am looking forward to making this space a place where community residents can enhance their health and well-being,” said Ali, who was raised in the community. “This will ultimately make for a more vibrant community, increasing the quality of life.”
Representatives from the partnering organizations attended the launch. They included Literature for Life founding executive director, Jo Altilia and Greenwin Inc. property manager and its social programming & development manager, Eugene Bussoli and Eric Green, respectively.
Funded by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Team Up and the Ontario Trillium foundations, the centre will operate from 3.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. between September and June and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer with a weekly drop-in component for community residents.
BY RON FANFAIR