The complexity of poverty

Inspirations Studio, run by United Way member agency Sistering - A Woman's Place, is a pottery studio that helps women who are marginalized establish and manage their own arts and crafts micro-businesses. Supported by Toronto Enterprise Fund, a partnership between United Way and three levels of government, it's helping create long-term, sustainable employment opportunities.

Inspirations Studio, run by United Way member agency Sistering – A Woman’s Place, is a pottery studio that helps women who are marginalized establish and manage their own arts and crafts micro-businesses. Supported by Toronto Enterprise Fund, a partnership between United Way and three levels of government, it’s helping create long-term, sustainable employment opportunities.

When it comes to poverty there is no perfect answer. It’s an incredibly complex problem. One that affects us all.

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Creating opportunities for good, solid employment

Bhavita Panchal attended ACCES Employment’s innovative speed mentoring program and eventually landed a position with ADP, a prominent human resources, payroll and benefits company.

I feel fortunate to work where I work, with colleagues who are committed to our community. I enjoy coming to work every day. But I also recognize that not everyone has this experience. Continue reading

I like where we’re headed with tower renewal

I love the way Graeme describes the potential of Toronto’s high-rise rental apartment buildings. He paints a hopeful picture of what the future could be. With community gardens, playgrounds and restaurants, things that bring neighbours together, these buildings could be more dynamic and more sustainable. Better for everyone. Continue reading

Why I’m reminded to take a step back

Xerox employees asked their children to draw a picture of what they imaged for their community and what they were doing to make that community a reality. This is Colin’s picture of a young boy donating bags to a donation truck.

It’s hard to believe but it’s already been a month and a half since we launched our annual campaign and invited Torontonians to Imagine a City.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started this conversation. I’d never blogged before and I had no idea how our community would react. But at the same time, I was excited about the new places Imagine a City could take us — and the ideas people might share.

A friend recently made my day when she said she checked every morning for new posts. She told me how inspired she was by our community bloggers. Just like her, I look forward to reading their personal stories and learning about their visions for Toronto. But I’ve also enjoyed what you, our readers, have had to say. Some of you wish more was being done to address the gaps between the many different communities in Toronto. Some of you want to support youth in new ways. All of you dream of a better future.

I’m really looking forward to reading more from you through the Imagine a City giveaway. We’re inviting you, whoever you are, wherever you work, whatever you do, to tell us what your ideal Toronto looks like.

This concept has extended beyond our blogosphere. A few weeks ago the staff at Xerox, as part of their campaign to raise money for United Way, asked their children to imagine a city through their Art of Caring project. You can see just one example of that creative artwork at the top of my post.

In some ways, I think taking part in any United Way campaign is a way of imagining a better Toronto. People give, volunteer and engage with us because they want to make our city stronger. They canvass their colleagues for donations, volunteer at a community agency, and they even climb the 1,776 steps of the CN Tower — all because they imagine a Toronto that’s full of opportunities.

We can all get caught up in our own busy lives. Imagine a City has reminded me how important it is to take a step back. It’s been an opportunity to reflect on some of Toronto’s challenges. I read posts from my fellow bloggers and think, in a broad way, about the kind of city United Way is partnering with others to create. It’s been (and continues to be) so valuable to me. I hope it’s been valuable to you too and you’ll keep engaging with us on the blog.

No one understands a woman like another woman

Anne-Marie welcomes our photographer to The Redwood where some of the agency’s clients have gathered. One of the core values of the organization, respect, is displayed on the door, reminding the women not only what they deserve from others but what they owe themselves.

Three years ago, I got to be a mentor to a young woman taking part in United Way’s CITY Leaders program. She was ambitious, hard working, and just starting to build her career in social services. She called me the other day to tell me about her new job at a community agency and I was so excited to hear about her work and the progress she’s made. Continue reading

Agree or disagree, we want to hear from you.

It’s been almost a month since we started this conversation. I’m excited about what you’ve shared so far and looking forward to more discussion and more comments. Reading your thoughts on Toronto’s challenges motivates me. To work harder. To think more deeply about United Way’s work in our community.

Saleem and Orville spotlighted the importance of youth services and the need to do more. Mario and Kadeem told us firsthand what having someone to talk to, who believes in you, can mean for a young person. And many of you have asked big, difficult questions.

In Mario’s post, he asked: Why can’t there be programs like YouthReach in all Toronto neighbourhoods?

That’s a good question.

Toronto’s downtown neighbourhoods have had programs like YouthReach — and other types of social services and programs — for many years. But as we’ve seen in our research, the inner-suburbs haven’t kept up.

To address this challenge, we started talking to our member agencies. Many opened satellite offices and hired mobile workers to expand their reach into areas like Scarborough and North York.

We also worked with the Government of Ontario to create the Youth Challenge Fund (YCF), which supported youth-led initiatives and encouraged leadership and engagement in all thirteen priority neighbourhoods. Initiatives like Hammer Heads, which trains young people in the construction trade and works to connect them to jobs. And programs like Success Beyond Limits, which provides academic support to students who experience challenges in the classroom.

Over the last few years, I’ve visited many YCF initiatives like these. I met vibrant, smart young people who, despite numerous challenges, are lifting themselves up. These young people, like Mario and Kadeem, give me hope.

So the short answer to Mario’s question is we’re working on it. We’ve made progress, but these things take time. We have a long way to go. And as I’ve said before, we can’t do it alone. We need help from people across our city to make change happen.

As we continue in these efforts to change social conditions, conversations like this one about how we can move forward together remain vital. So I encourage you to write in. Tell us what’s on your mind. If you’ve thought about adding to this dialogue, go for it. Do you agree with what’s been said? Do you have a vision for Toronto that you want to share? We value every idea, thought and question.

Whatever your contribution, thank you for being engaged.

Giving youth work opportunities is a good way to make big changes in our city

Orville Wallace and two JVS YouthReach clients stand outside the agency. YouthReach helps connect young people who have been inconflict with the law to work opportunities. You can learn more about this fantastic program and many others offered by JVS (a United Way member agency), by visiting

I got my first job working at McDonald’s when I was a teenager. I remember an odd combination of feelings on my first day — nervousness, excitement and pride all mixed together. That job taught me basic lessons that have served me well throughout my career. Show up on time. Provide good customer service. Work well with others.

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The stories from youth that stick with me

Kwaku and Imisi at a summer camp wearing their leadership t-shirts

Imisi and Kwaku were two young men who participated in a summer program partially funded by United Way and run by the Albion Boys & Girls Club. It’s part of a partnership we have with the Ontario Ministry of Education and the school boards that helps to not only fund great programs in neighbourhoods where there aren’t a lot but also offers summer employment opportunities for youth.

This summer, I spoke to dozens of youth about the challenges faced by young people in Toronto today. Continue reading

Let’s get the conversation started…

Picture of Susan McIssac, President and CEO, United Way TorontoEach day, United Way works with individuals and organizations across Toronto to build a better city for us all. It’s something we’re deeply committed to and passionate about. But even as we work it’s good to take a step back and reflect from time to time — to think about the kind of city we’re working to create.

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