Fresh out of Jamaica and eager to make a seamless transition in his adopted homeland, Guillian Morgan was excited when he learned of Tropicana Community Services Organization (TCSO) and the services it provides.
Canada’s largest Black social service agency is one of the principal administrators of the province’s youth opportunities strategy summer jobs for youth program, aimed at young people in Toronto’s designated priority neighbourhoods.
They are provided with job readiness training and support, paid employment placements during the summer and post-employment aid.
“That was exactly what I was looking for,” said Morgan, who was enrolled in the program in 2010 just a few months after leaving St. George’s College for the Greater Toronto Area to enhance his education. “Tropicana gave me my first job and a clearer understanding of what I can achieve in Canada once I was willing to put in the hard work.”
Morgan, who is enrolled in Ryerson University’s chemical engineering program, was a youth worker leader at Tropicana last summer.
“That was my way of giving back to the organization that put me on the right track,” he said. “I wanted to help young people in the same way that other people assisted me when I was in the program looking for direction.”
While enrolled at West Hill Collegiate Institute three years ago, Nicholas Davis was also seeking a summer job.
“When one of my teachers suggested I check out Tropicana, I thought she was talking about a juice company,” said Davis. “I had no idea what the organization was about and what it did until I did some research and became very interested.”
A summer participant in 2010, the Malvern resident was also a youth worker leader last year.
“Tropicana was an outlet for me to be involved in positive endeavours,” said Davis, who is in Centennial College’s child & youth worker program. “The organization provided me with a road map to lead me to where I want to go and it has given me a different perspective on my life.”
Morgan and Davis are among hundreds of young people who have benefited from Tropicana’s presence in the community in the last 33 years.
Jamaican-born Robert Brown, who died nine years ago, established the organization, which became United Way’s first Black member agency in 1984. While enrolled at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, Brown and a few other students 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. Determined to act, the team quickly moved to prepare an audited report of its findings and solicit broad support for Scarborough’s at-risk youths.
The TCSO was set up in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve disadvantaged youth and their families. 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.
With an operating budget of $9.8 million last year, Tropicana provided approximately 2,000 jobs – about 1,100 during the summer – for the nearly 19,950 clients it served and offered counselling and immigrant settlement services in 15 languages.
“This organization has done so much in the community to give countless young people and newcomers numerous opportunities,” said retired York Regional Police Services chief, Armand La Barge, who was presented with the President’s Award at the TCSO’s 20th annual fundraising gala last Saturday night at Angus Glen Golf Club. “The proof is not just in the statistics but in the success stories we read and hear about. I am incredibly proud to be honoured by an organization that is doing such remarkable work and making a marked difference in the lives of young people.”
In his eight years as chief prior to retirement in December 2010 after 37 years with the Service, LaBarge was a major catalyst for change in his organization.
Under his watch as police chief, Trinidad & Tobago-born Robertson Rouse was appointed superintendent in the summer of 2008, making him the organization’s highest ranking Black officer. The Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) president Keith Merith, Chris Bullen, Andre Crawford (elevated to superintendent two years ago) and Ricky Veerappan were promoted to inspector, while Joan Randle became the Service’s first Black female staff sergeant.
Over the years, entrepreneur Delores Lawrence has contributed financial resources to TCSO, recruited its summer students and hired graduates.
“When you look at its body of work in the last three decades, it’s easy to see why a community agency like this needs all the support it can get,” said Lawrence, who was the recipient of the Community Builder Award. “The work it does is making a significant difference.”
A University of Toronto nursing graduate and the holder of an MBA from the University of New Hampshire, Lawrence owns Nursing Health Healthcare Inc. (NHI) which provides healthcare to nearly 50 institutions in the Greater Toronto Area, employs nearly 1,000 and has a revenue stream of close to $8.5 million
Accredited by the Canadian Council of Health Services and the recipient of the Consumer Choice award for Business Excellence in Nursing four consecutive years, NHI has offices in downtown Toronto, Scarborough and Markham and the company’s varied clients include hospitals, long-term care facilities, the Toronto District School Board and private individuals.
In the keynote address, diversity, management and leadership consultant Ritu Bhasin said TCSO is a beacon in the community that needs optimal sustenance.
“We need to continue to support this organization and the great work it’s doing,” she said. “It needs us and we must never forget that. For some, it may mean writing a cheque while for others that support will take the form of volunteering time, attending every fundraising event and promoting the organization wherever you go.”
Provincial Minister of Citizenship & Immigration Michael Coteau, Ontario Court of Appeal judge Michael Tulloch and retired Toronto deputy police chief Keith Forde attended last Saturday’s celebration.
Tropicana will relocate to its new building at 1385 Huntingwood Dr. in Scarborough on July 11.
The office space is on the verge of completion as part of the initial refurbishment phase. The second stage will involve the installation of a gymnasium, computer labs, a studio, kitchen and community meeting rooms. This phase is expected to be finished by the end of March, 2014.
The new building has 20,000 square feet at the ground level and an additional 8,000 square feet in mezzanine space.