A year ago, the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club’s (ESBGC) new facility in the Galloway community was unveiled.
With financial resources from all three levels of government and other funding sources, the club was upgraded by 10,000 feet to include recording and dance studios, community and multi-purpose rooms and a gym.
The increased space means that the club is now able to double registration to almost 700 in its several youth programs and summer camps.
Unfortunately, instead of celebrating the year of accomplishments with staff and participants, ESBGC executive director Ron Rock spent the anniversary week facing the media following the Danzig Street shooting, which left two young people dead and several others injured. It should have been a week filled with celebrations. Instead, it turned out to be one of mourning, sorrow and despair.
Rock was also busy reassuring his staff – many of them young people who reside in the community – that their work was making a difference in the lives of the area’s youth.
One of the dead, 14-year-old Shyanne Charles, was a member of the club.
“Shyanne was coming here since she was a young child,” said Rock. “She came to the child care centre, so many of our staff knew her very well. Our youth service staff also knew her extremely well. Shyanne loved to rap and she did a recording in our studio. She was a smart young woman with an infectious smile.”
Another member – teenager Marlon King who is enrolled in the club’s sports leadership program – was shot in the arm.
Despite the senseless violence that’s crippling some neighbourhoods across the city, Rock said programs and services offered by ESBGC and other community agencies are empowering young people.
“Not all the kids that come through our doors are squeaky clean,” he said. “But we would not want that. We are here for the kids that need support. We have had amazing success with some of those young people who are rough around the edge. They have changed for the better because of their involvement here…In this space, young people are learning new skills, they are active and they are able to express themselves artistically and build new and lasting relationships.”
A total of 15 young people recently graduated from the club’s employment training program. Beginning in September, area youth will benefit from a collaboration with Rogers, which has donated 16 computers to the club as part of an educational attainment initiative that will help youths between the ages of 13 and 17 improve their numeracy and literacy skills.
The club also provides fun activities for neighbouring residents.
Just two days before the deadly shooting, the ESBGC sent 10 families from the Danzig neighbourhood to Canada’s Wonderland.
The Danzig Street neighbourhood is just a few hundred yards away from the ESBGC, which is located at 100 Galloway Road.
“We are part of the East Scarborough community and we know the challenges that many families here face,” said Rock. “We just wanted them to have a few hours of enjoyment.”
In response to gang activities in the East Scarborough community six decades ago, retired law enforcement officer, Fred Gregory – with the assistance of partners – started the club to provide a space for youth to engage in productive activities.
Since 1957, the ESBGC has been providing neighbourhood solutions to community and social needs through its flagship social and recreational facility and 15 local satellite locations.
Outside of government, the Youth Challenge Fund (YCF) chipped in with $1 million in funding for the renovations. Rock was the first executive director of the YCF, which was created to offer opportunities to young people who face inequities across the city’s 13 priority neighbourhoods.
It makes direct grassroots investments in youth-driven initiatives that focus on creative approaches to engaging young people and providing opportunities for education, employment and leadership.
Pamela Grant succeeded Rock as the YCF executive director.
“In the short-term, it’s important that our community come together to meet the immediate needs of the people and families who are hurting,” said Grant. “It’s also important that we take a step back to look at the big picture. The work that has been done at the community level until now is making a real difference. We are moving in the right direction. We need to look at what is working best and determine how to build on that work. We also need to assess who is needed at the table as we take the next steps…There are some obvious starting points for the conversation that happens next.
“Yes, we need sustained investment in priority neighbourhoods. But we also need stronger collaborations among multiple partners. Most importantly, we need to ensure young people are at the heart of any efforts going forward. The issue is more than just preventing violence. It’s about bringing together the right partners and allies to ensure a long-term approach to social and economic development that promotes systemic change.”
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.
By RON FANFAIR