As she soaked up the Tropicana Community Service Organization’s (TCSO) new Centre of Excellence opening ambience, Deanna Heron was filled with pride and satisfaction.
Starting out in the family’s Scarborough home where her late father, Robert Brown, conceived the idea for the organization he co-founded 34 years ago, TCSO has emerged as Canada’s largest Black social service agency, serving almost 20,000 clients annually and offering counselling and immigrant services in 15 languages.
Brown died a decade ago at age 68.
Running out of space to efficiently service its expanding clientele and services, the organization moved into a refurbished 28,000-square feet building in July, 2013.
The official dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony took place two weeks ago.
“My father was a dreamer and he dreamed big,” said Heron, who is a vice-principal at Markham District High School. “He would love every aspect of what is happening today because this is a warm, caring and beautiful facility that will allow young people to explore their potential.”
While enrolled at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, Brown and some of his classmates 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. The team quickly moved to prepare an audited report of its findings and solicit broad support for the community’s challenged youths.
Heron was just a young girl when the TCSO was set up in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve disadvantaged youth and their families. The organization became United Way’s first Black member agency four years later.
Through its myriad diverse programs, the agency aims to increase the rate of self-employment for youth, improve access to culturally appropriate counselling services and reduce the school drop-out rate among Black students.
“Tropicana was like another sibling when I was growing up,” she said. “I remember taking notes for dad in the car when he got an idea while driving. My leadership skills were certainly honed back then. I will continue to recommend Tropicana to parents and my two boys will always visit this multi-generational facility.”
Heron’s mother, Jean Brown, also attended the opening.
“Robert’s passion for creating organizations began in Jamaica when he started a few Jaycees and Lions branches,” said the widow. “At Alcan where he worked before coming to Canada, he was also an active community developer. Tropicana was just a natural extension of what he did in his birthplace.”
TCSO completed a deal for the purchase of the building almost three years ago. The organization used the $600,000 it raised over five years along with $1.36-million from a $2-million major capital grant it received from the province in September 2011 to buy the $2.35-million building.
The federal government provided $613,090 under the 2012 Economic Section plan to assist with renovations for the second phase. The first phase comprised mainly installing offices and counselling rooms.
Long-time TCSO executive director, Sharon Shelton, could hardly contain her excitement at the dedication ceremony.
“We are thrilled with our new home,” she said. “In the past, one would have to travel quite a distance to take advantage of our various programs and services. With the new building and expanded space, we are able to better serve clients by offering elements of most of our programs under one roof.”
The TCSO is seeking nearly $200,000 in private funding to complete the gymnasium, computer and audio-visual laboratories, community rooms and the kitchen.
The organization is selling naming rights for the gym, community rooms and other areas of the new facility, which was designed by architect Charles Rosenberg.
Shelton promised that a space in the state-of-the-art building will be dedicated in Brown’s memory.
Derrick McLennon joined former presidents Jim Hart, Ken Sealy, Christine Williams, Carmen James-Henry, Dr. Gervan Fearon – who was on Skype – and current president Jenny Gumbs at the ceremony.
“This day marks the realization of yet another dream in the history and development of Tropicana’s ambitious community service,” said McLennon, who served as president from 1981 to 1989. “It’s a tangible symbol that will serve the diverse communities.”
Former Member of Provincial Parliament, Margarett Best, who was instrumental in securing provincial funding for the agency, along with Minister of Children, Youth Services & Women’s Issues Tracy MacCharles; Alvin Curling, Bas Balkissoon and Scarborough-Rouge River Member of Parliament, Rathika Sitsabaiesan, attended the event.