You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know it exists. That’s why, in 2018, we launched a bold new national awareness campaign designed to bring attention to #UNIGNORABLE local issues like poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and domestic violence—issues that are often overlooked.
Thank you for helping us be part of the solution to tackling these issues in the places we live and love. As the year draws to a close, we’ve rounded up five of our top blog posts that shine a light on complex issues facing our community—and what we can do about them, together.
1. A myth-busting Q&A on homelessness We asked frontline workers and experts about what it’s really like for the estimated 35,000 Canadians who experience homelessness on any given night. Their responses will completely change the way you think about homelessness.R
2. Can we end the cycle of child hunger? In Toronto, about 1 in 4 children live beneath the poverty line—and since 2008, the city’s inner suburbs have seen a 48 per cent increase in food bank use, including kids. We asked the experts about the root causes of this unignorable issue—and how we can all help ensure no child goes hungry in our community.
3. Why loneliness in seniors is a health hazard We may not think of loneliness as a serious mental health issue, but social isolation can have devastating effects on seniors. We talked to industry experts about the innovative, community-based solutions that can help seniors, their caregivers and, ultimately, the healthcare system.
4. Breaking the cycle: A Q&A on the stigma of domestic violence Domestic violence is rampant across Canada. Lieran Docherty, program manager at WomanACT (Woman Abuse Council of Toronto), explains how social assistance programs, the justice system and public policy can more effectively support women experiencing violence.
5. Is poverty a human rights violation? We spoke to Maytree’s President Elizabeth McIsaac on why we need to reframe how we think about poverty. Like many other advocates, she thinks we should start treating poverty as a human rights violation—an approach that could help empower those experiencing it.
We’ve all heard the concept of paying it forward – where one person performs a random act of kindness, which inspires the recipient to do the same. But is kindness truly contagious?
A growing body of scientific evidence seems to suggest this is the case. When we are the recipient of, or a witness to, a kind act, we feel warm and fuzzy inside. Essentially, this pleasant feeling makes us want to then do something kind for others.
Results of a ground-breaking study by researchers at the University of California San Diego and Harvard University published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 found that people can ‘catch’ emotional states they observe in others by ‘emotional contagion.’ The benefits of paying it forward, according to the researchers, spreads to at least three degrees of separation.
Another study published in Biological Psychiatry in 2015 gives this warm and fuzzy feeling a name: moral elevation. During the study, 104 college students were shown videos of acts of compassion and kindness, which triggered an increase in heart rate and brain activity associated with empathy. Hence, the term “moral elevation”.
Kindness elevates oxytocin levels, a hormone involved in empathy, compassion and kind behaviour, according to author and speaker Dr. David Hamilton. Genetically speaking, he writes that: “We are not wired to be selfish. We are wired to be kind.”
When Dareen Fatimah first came to Canada with her husband and son – with no family connections or job prospects – she was overwhelmed. She didn’t know how to find housing, employment or even warm clothing in a country that was completely unfamiliar to her. The family had just spent 10 days walking around Toronto in the frigid cold, trying to find a place to live.
One day, in an effort to warm up, the family ducked into a school. It was then that a grey-haired woman approached with a smile and asked if they needed help. It turned out she was a settlement worker with United Way-supported CultureLink, an agency that helps newcomers settle into their new life in Canada.
“She recommended so many free services [for new Canadians] that we didn’t know existed – it was like winning the lottery,” says Fatimah. Growing up in Lebanon and moving to Dubai as a young adult, she had never met anyone who was willing to help her for nothing in return. “I spent so many nights trying to understand if this is fraud or if this is real,” she says.
Fatimah arrived in Canada in March; by June she was volunteering with CultureLink, eventually finding employment as a settlement worker and program co-ordinator. “I still feel I owe this to every single newcomer that comes across my way, whether I’m at the subway or at the supermarket or at work. This is like a gift that I was given, and I have to pass it on to someone else.”
Dionne Quintyn moved to the Regent Park community in Toronto when she was five years old. Her mom – a hard-working Guyanese woman who moved to Canada in 1995 – worked in Richmond Hill, which meant her children would come home from school to an empty house. So, she enrolled Quintyn and her brother in the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Clubs.
The afterschool club came with a bonus: the United Way-funded Safewalk Home Program. “That program was my mom’s life and saviour. By the time we got home at seven, she was home and dinner was ready,” says Quintyn.
Now, as a young adult, Quintyn is a representative on the provincial youth council for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada and past president of the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Clubs youth council. Aside from continuing to volunteer, she earned an advanced diploma in child and youth work and is now in the degree program at Humber College so she can provide counselling services for youth transitioning out of the justice system.
“I feel like it’s molded me into somebody who wants to help others because I was helped throughout my whole life through the Boys and Girls Clubs. Sometimes I feel like it’s my calling,” she says. “I like the fact I can help somebody else.”
Perhaps Quintyn sums up the concept of moral elevation best: “I do it because it’s fun, and I enjoy giving people the help they need so they can go out and help someone else.”
An earlier version of this story appeared on imagineacity.ca in April 2017 and has been updated and edited here.
This time of year is all about giving back—to friends, family and community. And it’s never too early to get your kids—mini philanthropists-in-the-making—thinking about the importance of doing good. So we’ve put together this “cheat sheet” on simple and quick ways to start a conversation around empathy, generosity and being a good human.
1. Show them the way
“Our children are like little sponges who suck up a lot of what we say and do,” says Mary Bean, Senior Director, Culture and Leadership at Learn2. “So one great way to get them involved in helping others is to do so ourselves.” You can start doing this when your kids are young—Bean started volunteering with her little ones when they were six—by bringing them along and talking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. “Tie some purpose to your activities, and explain, ‘I do this because it’s important for…,’” Bean says. She recommends picking volunteer opportunities that are connected to your child’s world, like their soccer team, school or local playground. “That helps to bring it to a frame of reference that they can understand,” she explains. With her kids, Bean chose activities that they could be actively involved in. “I wouldn’t have brought them to a meeting where I was sitting on a board as a volunteer, or that kind of thing. It was more things like setting up for a bake sale, or getting ready for their school fun fair, so they could see the results of their efforts—and enjoy them.”
2. Get them inspired
“Volunteer experiences need to be tied to something that gives you a sense of connection and belonging as an individual. So, what is your child interested in?” says Bean. It could be volunteering at the Humane Society and giving some furry friends a little love on a Saturday morning, she says. Or, finding a way to help kids their age. “Think about the questions your child is asking about the world, or things you’re bringing up at the table over a meal that they’re asking more than one question about,” she recommends.
When they get a bit older, you can also sign kids up for programs that have a volunteer component like Girl Guides or Scouts. Or, she says, if they want to try a new activity, use that as an opening to get them to think about giving back. If, for example, they ask to be on a hockey team, make it part of the deal for them to help you do something community-minded that’s connected to the activity, such as making the weekly team snack. That way, you’ll connect good-human behaviour to something they love.
One way to help kids blossom into good humans is to make sure they feel appreciated for what they offer, notes Bean. “Kids aren’t thanked very much,” she says, so it’s a powerful thing to let them know they contributed in a meaningful way and helped others. “A sense of belonging and a sense of happiness are connected,” explains Bean, “which is why I think volunteerism is so powerful, because you’re really contributing and belonging to something bigger than yourself.” Thanking your kids, or having an organizer thank them, will make them feel that they’re now part of a wider community, encouraging them to keep giving back.
4. Broaden their minds
Part of the process of raising kids who give back is helping them learn about the world beyond their lives, says Sara Marlowe, a clinical social worker who teaches mindfulness to children and families. One great way to start these conversations is by reading books together about people with different experiences. “For younger kids, books can be a gentle way to introduce concepts,” Marlowe says. Another way to offer the idea that there are things your family may have that others may not is by guiding them to set aside some of their allowance money to donate, she explains. This can help them understand not only that people in their community are in need, but also that there is something they can do to help.
5. Foster empathy
Cultivating self-compassion and empathy is a way to build on your child’s desire to want to help, explains Marlowe. “Research shows when we’re kinder to ourselves, and more compassionate toward ourselves, we’re kinder to and more compassionate with other people,” she says. “It strengthens our ability to be empathetic.”
One way to help our kids be more empathetic is to explicitly talk about how others may be feeling. “From very early on, we can start to encourage children to be aware of others,” says Marlowe. So, point out facial expressions in a picture book and ask your child how that person feels, or if you see an incident at the playground, ask your little one to consider what that experience was like for each of the kids present.
This is also another area where you can model the behaviour you want to see. Remember, kids are like sponges, so when you show kindness and empathy to others, your children will pick up on it.
Want to learn more about how we can help kids become good humans?
Seniors are living longer than ever, but that doesn’t mean they’re living life to the fullest. As society ages and families become more dispersed, loneliness and isolation are on the radar of healthcare professionals. While ‘isolation’ isn’t an illness, it’s a condition that can impact a senior’s physical, mental and psychological wellbeing. Imagine a City spoke to industry leaders about the impact of isolation and innovative, community-based solutions that can help seniors, their caregivers and, ultimately, the healthcare system.
Why is seniors’ isolation on the radar of healthcare professionals?
“Seniors are living longer, and some of them with more complex care needs,” says Christina Bisanz, CEO of CHATS (Community & Home Assistance to Seniors), a United Way-supported agency that serves 8,300 seniors and their caregivers in York and Simcoe. Adult children move away; families are more dispersed. In some communities, grandparents are brought to Canada to raise their grandchildren, but are left without a purpose once the grandchildren grow up, especially if they don’t speak English or have social connections.
Isolation can also come about because of mobility or health issues. Perhaps they’ve lost their driver’s licence, don’t live close to public transit or require a cane or wheelchair to get around. If they have an initial diagnosis of dementia, they may isolate themselves socially, which also has an impact on their partner or caregiver, says Allison Sekuler, vice-president of research at Baycrest Health Sciences and managing director for the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation.
Who is most at risk?
Those most at risk, according to a report by the Government of Canada, are seniors 80 or older who live alone, have multiple health problems, have no children or contact with family, lack access to transportation and survive on a low income. Life transitions such as retirement or death of a spouse can further the risk of becoming socially isolated.
What is the impact of isolation on seniors?
“There’s growing concern about the health impacts of social isolation,” says Bisanz. “In the U.K., for example, they recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness, because they’ve recognized and acknowledged that loneliness is related to acute and chronic health challenges.” The Government of Canada report found that one in four seniors lives with a mental health problem ranging from depression to dementia, while 44 per cent of seniors living in residential care have been diagnosed with depression or show undiagnosed symptoms of depression.
“If you’re isolated and don’t have opportunities to interact with people, it can speed cognitive decline and lead to depression,” says Sekuler. “[Statistics Canada] estimated 1.4 million older Canadians suffer from loneliness right now—80 per cent of the time people 80 years and older feel lonely. The statistics are really crushing.”
What community-based supports are available?
From a mobility standpoint, transportation programs can help an isolated senior get out of the house for grocery shopping or medical appointments, as well as social outings. Adult day programs at healthcare facilities and community centres offer social and wellness activities for seniors—from crafts to field trips—along with companionship. Home-care services also play a role, from friendly visits to home upkeep and healthcare.
Along with adult day programs, CHATS also offers outreach programs for the region’s diverse communities, such as Iranian, Russian, Cantonese and Tamil. “We have a number of programs that we run for culturally and linguistically specific communities—some of those are funded through United Way,” says Bisanz. “They’re designed to bring people together in a situation where they feel cultural familiarity.”
Is the issue exacerbated for LGBTQ2+ seniors?
While all seniors are at risk of social isolation, LGBTQ2+ seniors face barriers to affirming support services and a great deal of social isolation and loneliness as they age, says Kate Hazell, coordinator of the LGBTQ2+ seniors programs at The 519. As part of its programming, the agency seeks to address social isolation in older adults, through programs like a weekly drop-in program. It also launched a pilot program called Pals Connect for LGBTQ2+ seniors experiencing high levels of social isolation, providing friendly visits to seniors who are unable to access group programming. “As it is a drop-in space, people aren’t required to disclose their name in order to get access to it, and that’s an important feature,” says Hazell.
How does this affect caregivers?
Adult day programs can promote independence and encourage social interaction; at Baycrest, programs include door-to-door transportation, therapeutic recreation, creative arts, counselling and support, as well as respite for caregivers. “At the same time, the caregivers can have a little bit of a break, and they have opportunities to interact with each other, which reduces their social isolation,” says Sekuler. “In fact, caregivers are more likely to develop dementia themselves than non-caregivers.”
Indeed, a report from Health Quality Ontario found that one-third of caregivers looking after loved ones at home suffer from anger, distress or depression. Many caregivers ignore their own health while looking after a loved one, and experience emotional and physical distress such as low energy, headaches and chest pain. That’s why many programs that address senior isolation also provide respite for caregivers, including online support and peer meet-ups.
Can social robots really help?
While programs and services can help, so can new technologies. Baycrest’s Innovation, Technology and Design lab is working with the University of Toronto to develop a ‘social robot’ with emotion-sensing software to assist seniors with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. “The whole point is to address this issue of social isolation — it’s smart, it learns what you like,” says Sekuler.
Other projects include virtual reality applications that provide recreational and social support for homebound seniors with limited mobility — so they can go dancing or take a walk in the park via an avatar—and sensors that use artificial intelligence to detect falls and alert a caregiver. It’s early days, but it’s hoped new technologies can provide another option for isolated seniors.
Is there a GTA-wide strategy to address seniors’ isolation?
There are 14 local health integration networks (LHINs) around the province, which fund programs such as congregate dining, transportation services and adult day programs — along with cutting-edge research into new technologies that can reduce isolation and loneliness. “It’s about improving quality of life and quality of health so that hopefully we’re avoiding unnecessary hospitalization or more costly health care,” says Bisanz. “If social engagement supports that healthy well-being, physically, mentally and even spiritually, then seniors are able to remain as active members of their community.”
Peel. Toronto. York Region. No matter where you live within the region, you know that poverty remains a real and ongoing threat. But, if the past year was any indication, there’s lots of proof of how we, as a community, are fighting back.
Today, we are pleased to share United Way Greater Toronto’s 2017–18 annual report. It highlights all the change that your generous donations, on-the-ground volunteer efforts and tireless work on the front lines helped to create—in the places, populations and priorities most impacted by poverty.
Watch this video for President & CEO Daniele Zanotti’s summary of an eventful 2017:
Then, for all the ways that your support fuelled our region-wide uprising of care, read the full report here.
Camara Chambers has been giving back since she was 16, when she volunteered in a local charity shop in the United Kingdom. “I realized then that volunteering isn’t just a chance to make a difference; it also gives you skills and learning opportunities you might not find anywhere else,” says Chambers, who is Executive Director of Volunteer Toronto, a United Way–supported agency. And it’s a fantastic thing for families to do together, she adds, especially once the holidays are over, since the need is greater at other times of the year. Here are 10 ways you and your family can change someone’s life for the better.
1. Supporting seniors: Sometimes families have a harder time finding volunteer opportunities that are a good fit for younger children. Chambers recommends looking into your local Meals on Wheels or Friendly Visiting services. “Elderly people, especially those living in long-term retirement homes, can feel especially isolated, and spending time with them is a lovely opportunity for everyone involved,” she says. “It’s a nice way for children to meet the people they’re helping.” You can connect directly with long-term care homes in your neighbourhood by checking out the volunteer pages on their websites, or by going to local community sites, such as York Region’s CIVICYork page. Search for “long-term care facility volunteer positions” to learn about opportunities.
2. Kids helping kids: A great way to get teens involved—and give high-school students their requisite hours of volunteer service—is to encourage them to give after-school tutoring a try.
3. Call a shelter: Tight on time but driven to do something? Contact your local shelter and ask them what they need. “In the colder months, shelters are often desperate for socks, warm coats and blankets,” says Chambers. Personal-hygiene kits with toothbrushes and shampoo are almost always in demand, too.
4. Share a meal: If you enjoy entertaining, why not invite a family that’s new to Canada over for a holiday feast? You can do it independently or through an organization like Share Thanksgiving, which pairs newcomers with Canadian hosts to share a festive evening with new friends and family.
5. Everyone loves books: Free libraries continue to crop up all over the city, and they’re great places to donate your used books. “It’s such a wonderful way to make books available to people who may not have access to them otherwise,” says Chambers.
6. Be their guest: Some of the city’s Syrian refugee women have started up a grassroots “newcomer kitchen” to share their passion for cooking Syrian cuisine with Canadians. “It’s an opportunity to meet some of the country’s newest citizens and to experience their food and culture,” says Chambers. Even Justin Trudeau has dropped by for a newcomer brunch.
7. Build a gingerbread house: Every winter, Habitat for Humanity GTA hosts a gingerbread house-building workshop for kids. Participants pay $50 for a kit, which comes complete with assembled or unassembled house (depending on how ambitious you feel!), icing and plenty of candy. Proceeds fund the organization’s building projects.
8. Pass on your points: Did you know you can donate your Airmiles points to charity? Most people don’t, Chambers says, but it’s a quick and easy way to give back.
9. Out of the Cold: Every winter, many of the city’s churches open their doors to the homeless, offering some respite from the bitter temperatures outside. And there are lots of ways you can help, from simply being on hand to greet people and answer questions to handing out hot drinks. Log on to the Out of the Cold website to find a program near you.
10. Hit the ice:Evergreen Brick Works is a volunteer mecca year-round, but in the winter the organization needs extra help once its skating rink is up and running. You can pitch in lots of ways, from helping out in the skate shop to being a rink ambassador.
If you’d like to find more ways to volunteer with your kids, check out Volunteer Toronto’s site; their Suitable for Families (with Kids under 14) page is routinely updated with non-profit organizations that could use your help. You can also find additional winter volunteer opportunities on the site’s Holiday volunteering page.
If a friend mentions they need job hunting tips, legal advice, or even housing help, do you know where they can access resources? In many cases, the answer is the same for each of these issues: their local Community Hub.
Community Hubs provide everything from seniors’ programming to English classes for newcomers to information for parents, all within one space.
“Many people might not even realize that their neighbourhood has this wealth of resources all under one roof,” says Alex Dow, United Way’s Director of Neighbourhoods. And even if they can’t directly help, Community Hubs can connect an individual with further resources.
Here are four reasons why it’s worth checking out your local Hub:
1. Hubs address multiple needs
Often someone who needs help in one area could use a hand in other ways as well. A newcomer who needs English classes can also access employment support. Someone who is struggling with parenting can get support along with counselling services. In fact, these “wraparound” supports provided by Community Hubs are vital to overall well-being and help create a strong social safety net across our neighbourhoods. United Way’s Hub in Rexdale, for example, provides everything from health services to social programs, as well as legal help and cultural assistance.
2. The whole family can find support
All of the hubs offer a variety of programming specially tailored to local residents. Go to United Way’s Bathurst-Finch Community Hub and you’ll find seniors’ programs, breastfeeding support and childcare. AccessPoint on Danforth provides health care, LGBTQ+ programs and youth peer mentoring. “The Hubs are really designed for people of all ages,” says Dow. “You might come in looking for a program or a service for your child, but if an elderly parent lives with you, you’ll find activities for them, too.”
3. They create opportunities to volunteer
Don’t be surprised if your friend wants to continue going to the local Hub after receiving the help they needed. “After accessing services, many people like to give back,” says Dow, and there are many different types of opportunities to pitch in, including working in a community garden, running classes, helping with promotions, participating in workshops, or leading cooking classes or playgroups.
4. Hubs help people connect
The connections and friendships that can come from Community Hubs are one of their biggest advantages, says Dow. That’s because meeting neighbours and learning more about the community’s needs can lead to increased engagement with the neighbourhood and a better understanding of the issues that are affecting it—not to mention a desire to help.
Looking to access services at a Community Hub near you? Try calling 211, a helpline supported by United Way, to connect with one of these vital community resources in your neighbourhood.
When you’re searching for help—whether you need legal advice, mental health resources or financial aid—Cynthia Drebot, Executive Director of the North End Women’s Centre in Winnipeg, says you should look first in your own community. “It’s not just a matter of convenience,” she says, “it’s because the organizations often understand the needs of their community and tailor their resources to suit them.”
One of the best ways to find these resources, she says, is by asking other people in your network. In fact, community organizations get most of their clientele by word of mouth, and that can often lead to resources that you may not realize are right in your own backyard. Case in point: family resource centres, which offer a variety of services, from helping people access food and housing to programs for literacy and social activities.
And once you find an appropriate organization, you may be surprised by the extent to which they can help, says Drebot. Many of the organizations work to decrease the barriers that prevent people from being able to get help in the first place—for example, the North End Women’s Centre provides transit tokens for those who need help getting to the Centre to attend workshops, and free on-site childcare for women who are accessing its programs. Through the Centre, women can work at a thrift shop in exchange for the organization paying their damage deposit or their hydro or phone bill.
“We have women who come to our drop-in who may have originally walked in the door not knowing what we do, but we can set them up with up to a year of free counselling to work through the challenges they may be facing, such as domestic violence. They can also sign up to take a mindfulness or self-esteem workshop with a group of other women,” says Drebot. “And that idea of connecting with other women is huge—it reduces that sense of isolation.” That’s something that is valuable to everyone.
By connecting with others in your neighbourhood, you may receive far more than you expect—not just a solution to that original problem, but a circle of support that will help in all areas of your life.
As we age, one of the biggest threats to our independence is social isolation. And the need to keep seniors mentally engaged in their communities has never been greater. Kahir Lalji, the provincial program manager of Better at Home and Active Aging, an organization dedicated to helping senior citizens with day-to-day tasks so they can continue to live independently in their own homes, says there are close to 900,000 seniors in British Columbia alone, and by 2031 one in four of us will be an older adult. “No one wants to be forced to leave their community because they can’t access the services they need,” says Lalji. “But this is something we see happening in communities across the province.” That’s where the rest of us come in. Connecting with seniors provides a meaningful—and mutual—learning experience—and it doesn’t take much. “We’ve seen volunteers and clients build lasting friendships, and we’ve seen transformations in communities, too,” says Lalji. Here are three things you can do to connect:
1. Be a good neighbour
Lalji recommends becoming part of a “natural system of social support,” which means you’re getting involved not because it’s your job, but because you genuinely care about your neighbours. For instance, if you’re going to the grocery store, pop by to check in on a senior down the street to see if he or she could use a carton of milk. “It’s a way for neighbours to monitor the health of older adults in the community,” says Lalji.
2. Leverage your skills
Think about what you do best and use your skills as a way to get involved. Great at knitting? Start a club at a local seniors’ residence or community centre. If you’re an accountant, set up a financial planning clinic for older people. Using your own interests as a starting point for volunteering makes the experience more meaningful for everyone. “It’s a great opportunity to bring your understanding, knowledge and skills to the community,” says Lalji.
3. Strike the right balance
It’s not always about doing things for seniors; it’s about doing things with them, says Lalji. Often the best relationships start with providing a service (such as shopping, yard work, minor repairs or transportation) in order to develop a more meaningful relationship. “Providing these types of services is a place from which to build a rapport,” says Lalji. “Then it can be about having a cup of tea, playing cards or going for walks together.”
Though researchers aren’t sure exactly why it works, several studies have found a connection between eating a meal together and our physical and mental health. The advantages seem particularly strong for kids, who benefit from seeing healthy eating habits and positive communication modelled at the dinner table, but, according to Twyla Nichols, the coordinator of YWCA Halifax’s Food First program, we all stand to gain something when we make time to eat together. “When you sit down and eat, you’re relaxing,” she notes. “You slow down.”
Nichols has seen some of the benefits firsthand. She hosts a Food First program complete with a free lunch at YWCA Halifax every other week for around a dozen women. It’s open to all ages, but is mainly attended by seniors. Nichols says that without the communal meal, many of these women would likely be lonely, which can have a serious impact on mental health. “A lot of them are also widows, so if they didn’t have that type of thing to do, they would be alone,” she says. (Many are also low-income, which is why she also puts together a monthly calendar with food-related activities ranging from a trip to the food bank to farmers’ market visits.)
But for most of the women in the group, the biggest benefit is social. Many have developed lasting friendships, Nichols says, which makes breaking bread together all the more important.
Learn more about how food security affects all Canadians on the Food Secure Canada website. If you or someone you know is struggling with food security, visit Food Banks Canada to find one near you. If you’d like to help serve a community meal, volunteer to prepare and serve a meal at your local homeless shelter.
If you’re looking for a way to foster community among your neighbours, a communal meal—done well—is ideal.
That’s because food is a universal language that breaks down barriers and unites people of different backgrounds, says food and social justice activist Nick Saul. “There is something about food that has been bringing people together since we started to walk, forage and communicate with one another,” he says. “We could light a fire, and people would eat and tell stories and share—I think it’s something in our DNA.”
Saul has seen the value of a community supper countless times as co-founder, president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, a national organization that builds and supports food-focused community centres in low-income neighbourhoods. At these centres, community members can get involved in the production and preparation of healthy food that is served respectfully.
Have a small organizing team that is as diverse as possible and reflective of the community. This ensures that people of all backgrounds will hear about your event and feel included in the planning.
2. Take inspiration from the community
Your plans, from the food to the decorations, should reflect the many different people in the neighbourhood. Saul suggests having different cultural food options, plus vegetarian dishes and those without diary or gluten to ensure everyone can enjoy the meal.
3. Make sure everyone feels welcome
If you are planning on discussing community issues, making the event adults-only makes sense. But there is no need to be hasty when making that decision. There are several options, says Saul, such as organizing childcare or providing children’s activities at the same location as the meal.
4. Decide what your goals are
Saul says the event could be planned around a theme or a type of food. People could discuss a certain issue, such as gentrification, affordable housing or community gardens. Or it could just be about bringing people together.
5. Splurge on real dishes
Through his work with food centres, Saul has seen the difference small things like cutlery, plates and glasses can make for many people. “They should not be plastic and disposable. I think that sends a message to people that they are disposable,” he says. “In our context of working with a lot of low-income people, we have learned that they often feel isolated, alone and not cared about. So I am really convinced that if you make that meal with love, people feel that—and, as a result, they feel that they matter, too, because someone took a lot of care.”
Another great way to be involved in your community is to volunteer with a food centre. Community Food Centres Canada has eight centres that offer volunteer opportunities in many areas, including fundraising, helping prep communal meals, community garden support or kitchen help.
The following article originally appeared on October 30, 2016, in theToronto Star as part of a special insert on United Way. It features the inspiring work of community champions and dynamic duo Mojgan Rasouli and Amitis Nouroozi.
At the heart of any strong, healthy community are its residents.
That was the resounding message during a recent series of educational workshops created by two United Way volunteers, architect and RBC Immigrant Awards 2016 finalist, Amitis Nouroozi, and urban planner, Mojgan Rasouli.
Nouroozi and Rasouli live in the Bathurst-Finch area and met in 2013, bonding quickly over a shared love of their community, and the desire to improve it.
The following year, the pair led their first Jane’s Walk, a movement of free, citizen-led tours that happen across the globe, inspired by the late activist and urbanist, Jane Jacobs.
Last spring, Nouroozi and Rasouli hosted a six-part workshop called You Are Where You Live in hopes of energizing people to become involved with making positive changes in their areas.
The series ran from April to June and was made possible through a United Way initiative called Action for Neighbourhood Change, which supports community members looking to lead changes through local projects and enhancements, such as increasing parks and garden spaces, and boosting recreational and cultural activities.
“The power of the individual is a fact we can’t ignore,” says Nouroozi, who came to Canada from Tehran in 2013, the same year she met Rasouli.
“It’s not just one person. I can take something and report it to, say, my daughter, and my daughter takes that knowledge with her to school,” Nouroozi adds. “Involvement of the individual is so powerful, and engagement of the immigrant helps them to feel at home, that I can do something to make this city a better place to live, and this helps me feel responsible. It brings a sense of belonging.”
The workshops addressed the needs of an area that’s not downtown, but also not in the suburbs. In other words, the inner suburbs—commuter communities built in the ’50s and ’60s for those working in the downtown core.
“We have lots of immigrants coming each year to this neighbourhood,” explains Rasouli, who immigrated to Canada from Iran in 2010.
“We need to give them the sense that they are in a very good place, so they can accept that neighbourhood as their home,” she says. “Changing a neighbourhood is very hard. For immigrants, understanding their city is important. They have adopted this city and this neighbourhood and the residents need to be educated about how it works.”
Densely populated, the inner suburbs are often teeming with a vibrant mix of cultures and cuisines. Yet, they also face unique problems, some that may seem unfamiliar to those living downtown.
“The inner suburbs can be described as communities in the City of Toronto that form a ring outside of the old city,” explains Alex Dow, director of Neighbourhood Initiatives for United Way.
“We know these communities tend to have less access to services, less walkability, higher populations of racialized persons, higher unemployment and underemployment and less transit access. As well, our research tells us these communities also welcome large numbers of newcomers and immigrants. The inner suburbs contain high volumes of dense tower communities as well, many of which are apartment towers surrounded by green space, but little in terms of services and commercial activity.”
Due to the design of these areas, another notable characteristic reins—vehicle dependency.
Picture the contrast between being able to stroll through one’s neighbourhood, chatting with locals at shops and cafes, with the isolation of driving, or taking multiple public transit routes, to even find such places.
“The inner suburbs often have a number of challenges related to their auto-oriented design and lower-density built form,” explains Dow. “There are plentiful green spaces and parks, however there are fewer opportunities for citizen engagement and more barriers to participation in ensuring that these spaces reflect the needs of the community.”
Dow offers the example of a high-rise community situated near a ravine and watershed, but without trails or access points. He says such spaces can be upgraded by adding entrances that allow residents to get out and explore the nature surrounding them.
These are some of the improvements Nouroozi and Rasouli are pushing for.
“There is a big gap between the newcomers and long-time residents,” Nouroozi explains. “There needs to be a way of exchanging local knowledge and encouraging newcomers to participate in their neighbourhood. There needs to be public spaces where residents can get connected. People talk about wanting to have patios and meeting areas to make it more alive, vibrant and livable, which is not really that difficult to do.”
During the workshop, organizers offered insight into how city planning works, offered ideas for getting involved and implementing change, and examined ways of building sustainable, walkable communities, among other topics.
“This is our adopted country,” says Rasouli. “Here we are living in a democratic country and there is a lot of opportunity to take part in how a community develops. If you educate people and inform people, you can raise their ideal of how they are living.”
Daniyal Zuberi RBC Chair & Associate Professor of Social Policy, University of Toronto
Daniyal Zuberi is the RBC Chair and Associate Professor of Social Policy at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto. In 2015, he was elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. He was previously the William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fellow at Harvard University. His innovative social policy research has made important contributions to the study of urban poverty, inequality, health, education, employment and social welfare. He has authored three books and other publications that examine the impact of public policy on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in Canada and the United States. Imagine a Cityspoke with Daniyal for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series to provide a big-picture lens on poverty across North America.
1. What are some of the common drivers that contribute to poverty across North America, whether in Winnipeg or Washington?
Poverty in North America is multi-faceted, affecting many individuals, families, and communities. The real cause of poverty is the lack of income. Many people are working longer and harder simply to tread water, living only one or two missed paycheques away from major financial hardship. With the explosion of precarious employment, too many households struggle to balance work and family life requirements as individuals take on multiple jobs to make ends meet and deal with the stress and anxiety of supporting their families. A job is no longer enough and they struggle as the “working poor” trying to find affordable housing and childcare for their families. For those unable to find work, they receive very limited support. Most of these individuals can’t access employment insurance benefits due to program restrictions. They join tens of thousands of others on wait lists for housing assistance and subsidized childcare as well as heavily-subscribed charitable programs such as food banks. Instead of helping and enabling these individuals and families, we trap them in poverty, failing to provide the training, support and education they need to upgrade their skills and find secure living-wage employment.
2. Discuss the recent U.S. election and how it has put a spotlight on the growing issue of rising income inequality.
The failure to adequately address the growing insecurity experienced by all too many North American households is one cause of the unexpected election outcome in the United States. Most of the economic gains over the past several decades have flowed exclusively to those at the top, especially in the U.S. Growing economic insecurity threatens social cohesion and people react to fears that their fortunes have stagnated, or that they’re falling behind. Countries that are more equal, or those with narrower income gaps, have much higher social development outcomes. Life expectancy is longer, infant mortality is lower, there is greater social trust, lower crime and incarceration rates, less mental illness and better health and educational outcomes. Importantly, there is also more equality of opportunity. One of the best ways to address growing inequalities is to support those struggling at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy.
3. How have changing labour market conditions, including precarious employment, impacted poverty?
The changing labour market is a major contributor to growing poverty in North America. With a shift away from manufacturing to the service sector in a globalized economy, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of precarious employment including poverty wage, part-time, and insecure jobs that fail to lift individuals and families above the poverty line. Our employment protections and social welfare policies have failed to evolve to protect people from poverty in this new economy. When hours are cut or workers are laid off, many can’t receive support from employment insurance because they haven’t worked enough hours to qualify. It’s important to note that these changes do not affect all workers equally. Women and racialized minorities, especially new immigrants, are the most likely to work in these precarious jobs. They’re forced to make impossible tradeoffs between working extra hours, but spending more on childcare, paying for rent or food. This is true in both Canada and the United States.
4. Discuss the changing nature of poverty in North America and how it differs in urban, suburban and rural contexts.
Poverty exists in cities, rural areas, and suburban areas. Many of the causes and consequences of poverty in these three contexts are similar, but important differences also exist. For example, poor individuals and families in the suburbs are less visible. In Vaughan, a wealthy area in York Region, we see “hidden homelessness” where people are doubled or even tripled up living in other people’s basements. In suburban and rural areas, there are also problems with social isolation that also include greater challenges in terms of accessing transportation for services and employment opportunities. But the urban poor face some unique challenges too. Especially if high housing costs force them to live in stigmatized areas with high concentrations of poverty, where transit is less accessible, less frequent, and of poor quality. While it may be easier to access services for individuals living in urban neighbourhoods, living in a high poverty urban neighbourhood can also it make more difficult for a person to successfully obtain employment as a result of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and postal code. It can also require coping with more challenges including violence and schools that lack resources to address the major challenges facing their student populations. Fundamentally, in urban, suburban and rural contexts, poverty comes down to a lack of resources.
5. Is there a single, best way to tackle poverty? If not, what are some common solutions we should be working towards?
No, I don’t think there’s a single solution. We need to continue to promote proactive policies and programs to prevent poverty and support struggling individuals and families. For example, we can raise social assistance rates to bring those households up above the poverty line. Expanding access to high-quality early childhood education will increase maternal employment and incomes by sending more mothers into the workplace, generating greater tax revenue and also reducing poverty. The research is clear that “housing first” and harm reduction approaches are far more effective than punitive measures to address problems such as homelessness and addiction. The latter results in an extremely expensive, reactive system where we end up spending more than required for policing, incarceration, hospitalization, and shelter services. We also need to focus on issues like raising the minimum wage, addressing a growing mental health crisis and providing individuals, including youth, with the training and support they need to find good jobs. Solutions at the local level are also important and include investments in high quality transit and community infrastructure. These include things like community hubs and health centres, parks, and community gardens that can really improve the quality of life for people in low-income neighbourhoods. These programs, along with significant policy reforms, could work together to reduce poverty quite dramatically.
6. What is the role of the non-profits like United Way in mitigating the effects of poverty?
We have a healthy and vibrant social services sector. We need to continue to build on that and expand it. United Way and other organizations do great work in providing services and supports for vulnerable and at-risk populations. United Way does a particularly great job of raising awareness of important issues like precarious employment through its research. It also brings together coalitions to mobilize, to advocate for policy reforms and new programs and to fundamentally address some of the root causes of poverty with the goal of eradicating it.
7. Can we end poverty?
Absolutely, yes. Fundamentally we have to understand that we can end poverty if we have the political will. There are many places in the world—including Scandinavian countries—that have largely eliminated poverty. But it’s still extremely rare. Canada has done a lot more in terms of supporting those living on a low income and reducing poverty compared to the United States where we’ve seen a lot of cutbacks and a really rapid increase in deep poverty. Although there is a long way to go, I don’t think we should ever lose hope. I think, in fact, this is an important reminder why this work is so tremendously important. We can’t stop fighting to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty. One of my friends is a congressman in the United States and he recently sent out an email with Dr. Martin Luther King’s message: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Our guest blogger this week is Liban Abokor, Executive Director of Youth LEAPS. His niece recently took part in United Way’s CN Tower Climb, and as part of her preparation, set out to learn more about the story of teamwork and collaboration behind our city’s historic landmark. The following article, which has been edited and condensed, originally appeared on October 30, 2016 in the Toronto Star.
Reportedly, it took 1,537 workers, operating 24 hours a day, five days a week for 40 months, to complete construction of the CN Tower. This labour force included electricians, steel workers, crane operators, engineers and carpenters, among many others. Each team member, delivering on a particular task, contributed to what still stands as a testament to human achievement.
The story of the CN Tower and how it was built offers valuable insights into the promise of collaboration and teamwork. When that many people come together for a common purpose they can accomplish an astounding feat.
It is an especially important lesson for Toronto’s social service sector as it faces increasing pressure to do more with less.
At a time marked by greater competition for remaining resources and growing need in the community, more and more organizations realize that collaboration enhances the impact of their work toward achieving transformational change.
In much the same way, United Way also seeks to move the dial on some of our most pressing social issues by fostering a social service sector driven by a culture of collaboration.
The role United Way plays is best described as part preacher, part practitioner. The organization seeks to not only popularize the spirit of collective effort, but also make the necessary investments. An example of this is the CITY Leaders program and Community Hub model that set the stage for collaboration to flourish.
Early in my career, I participated in the CITY Leaders program, which was an exciting opportunity to work alongside and learn from other emerging young leaders from various fields in Toronto. It was an immersive experience, driven by a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving, that taught me to look at issues as systemic.
Soon I would come to rely on these lessons in my role as executive director of Youth LEAPS, a registered not-for-profit seeking to improve educational attainment outcomes for at-risk youth.
Located in Scarborough, Youth LEAPS operates out of the Dorset Park Hub, which includes several other service providers offering essential supports including health care, settlement, employment, child and seniors care.
At the hub, we recognize that community members—many facing multiple barriers, often access several services simultaneously, which bolstered the case for greater collaboration and offered a clear opportunity to better align our service delivery to achieve greater impact.
Working closely with hub partners meant we could better co-ordinate services, share resources, exchange knowledge and enhance engagement protocols, such as the referral and monitoring processes.
A great example of this is our Learn2Work Initiative where we work with social service, employment, and health-care partners to create a classroom-to-careers pathway for youth between 18-29 years old, without their high school diploma, and receiving Ontario Works.
More so today than ever before, examples like Learn2Work can be found across our sector thanks to United Way’s investment in the development of young community leaders and the idea of collective problem solving and collaboration, imperative to achieving systemic change.
That’s the idea behind groundbreaking new Community Benefits legislation that will help connect residents from priority neighbourhoods with apprenticeship and work opportunities on large infrastructure projects like Metrolinx’s Eglinton Crosstown transit line.
Watch this video to hear more from our very own Pedro Barata, VP, Communications and Public Affairs, on what’s next for Community Benefits.
That means that in addition to building much-needed transit that connects communities, these projects can also provide pathways to better jobs, and more secure futures, for people living in poverty. This includes young people who face significant barriers to employment.
United Way was proud to play a key role in bringing this legislation to fruition by working with our partners—including Crosslinx, labour unions, the Toronto Community Benefits Network, the provincial government and the City of Toronto—to get the green light on this exciting initiative.
What are community hubs? And why are they so important for people and families living in poverty across our region? If you’ve been following the news recently, you may remember that Hubs garnered an important mention in the Ontario government’s latest Throne Speech. That’s because these “one-stop-shops” for social and health services—all under one roof—play an important role in ensuring that everyone across our province has access to the opportunities they need to thrive.
Working together with donors and community partners, United Way has opened seven Community Hubs throughout our region with an eighth currently in development. These Hubs serve more than one purpose. Although they act as a one-stop shop where people can access vital programs and services all under one roof, they are also places where residents come to build community. In 2005, Toronto identified 13 priority neighbourhoods that are home to some of our most vulnerable residents—many of whom are isolated from crucial social services, supports and infrastructure. Community Hubs bridge these gaps. Although neighbourhoods throughout our communities differ greatly, that’s the common thread between them. Whether a neighbourhood is made up of a high concentration of newcomers, residents living on a low income, single mothers or youth who aren’t graduating, Community Hubs bring together resources to provide a place that supports the diverse growing needs of a community.
2. What services do they offer?
Community Hubs offer a wide breadth of services based on a community’s needs—that’s why the Hub model is so effective. We’re able to work with community leaders and residents to identify needs and discuss what their vision is for the space. For example, at the Dorset Park Community Hub, we were able to match community partners to the needs of the community to offer food bank access, newcomer settlement supports, early childhood programs and employment resources. We also offer recreational space including a computer lab and community kitchen.
3. Why are Community Hubs so important?
Community Hubs are an important part of building stronger neighbourhoods because they involve people who live in the community—and know the issues first-hand—in every stage of the development and ongoing operation. Residents are engrained in the decision-making process because they want to make their community better. When Dorset Park residents saw that a Community Hub was opening, they felt truly invested. They felt that a funder like United Way believed in them so they took ownership of the space. The Hub represents opportunity for the community—opportunity to have their needs met, cultivate new relationships, discover a sense of empowerment and to become active participants in creating a stronger neighbourhood.
4. What role do local residents play in supporting the activities and ongoing operation of the Hubs?
Community Hubs could not thrive without the support of residents. Before the Hubs opened, residents wanted to get engaged in their community, but lacked the infrastructure, mentorship and organization to get community-led initiatives off the ground. They wanted a space where they could come together and start projects of their own.
An example I always highlight is the Women`s English Circle that started when a group of women identified that many newcomers in the community wanted to learn English. Though the program was initially successful, when it moved over to the Dorset Park Community Hub, membership grew exponentially. Now, 80 women actively participate in the program, most of whom were formerly isolated. This resident-led program not only gives women the opportunity to learn English, but perhaps more importantly, it’s connecting them with other women in the community. Now, the participants are actively engaging in other resources, have become volunteers and are even running initiatives of their own.
Before you lace up your sneakers, we thought we’d share a few tidbits about the CN Tower, and the awesome climbers and volunteers who step up year after year.
1. You’ll need to be quick: Think you’ve got what it takes to beat the fastest CN Tower climb time? Then be prepared to conquer roughly four steps a second! That’s right. The current record—undefeated since the 1989 CN Tower Climb for United Way—is a swift seven minutes and 52 seconds. That’s just over 222 steps a minute and over 20 minutes faster than the average climb time! Brendan Keenoy, a police officer, became the fastest person to climb the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. A remarkable feat that has been standing tall for almost 28 years.
2. Tall is an understatement: Just looking at the CN Tower can make your knees wobble. Built in 1976—just one year before the first CN Tower Climb for United Way—the Tower stands a whopping 553 metres (1,815 ft) high. That’s the equivalent of four Canadian football fields and almost 11 times as high as Niagara Falls! Keeping with the Canadian theme, the famous glass floor can also withstand the weight of 35 moose.
But what’s even more amazing is the number of people who have climbed over the past 40 years in support of United Way—more than 244,300 ! Not to mention the 500 volunteers who attend each year to ensure that the climb is safe and fun. That’s a lot of people coming together for a common cause.
3. The calf burn is worth the reward: Since its inception, the CN Tower Climb for United Way has raised $29.3 million! That’s a lot of money going toward building brighter futures for individuals and families, from the Toronto waterfront to the southern shore of Lake Simcoe. It’s true! Every step does change lives.
Meet Hibaq Gelle. She’s a community mobilizer and a powerful youth champion committed to bringing good jobs to people in her Rexdale neighbourhood. Using innovative ways of working, she’s empowering community members to take ownership of their neighbourhood and revolutionizing the way community change is made.
WHO: For Hibaq, building vibrant communities isn’t just a pastime—it’s a commitment she lives and breathes every day. As a graduate of CITY Leaders, a leadership program co-certified by United Way and the University of Toronto, Hibaq knows a thing or two about empowering youth. A staple in many priority neighbourhoods across Toronto, she’s helped youth facing barriers, including poverty and racialization, connect to the programs and supports they need to thrive.
But Hibaq is not only passionate about bringing opportunities to youth here at home; her impact can be felt province-wide. As a political appointee on the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities, Hibaq—one of just 25 people selected by the Premier—represents Ontario’s youth by bringing their voices to the table. Most notably, Hibaq advised on Ontario’s Youth Action Plan, a crucial $55 million investment in programs and services to tackle issues like youth violence and unemployment so that young people can transition successfully into adulthood.
WHY: It’s no surprise Hibaq has become a well-known name in Rexdale—community activism is a family affair. “Growing up, my mom was a go-to resource in the community,” says Hibaq. “Whether she was organizing women’s programming or helping newcomers navigate community resources, if you needed support, she was the person you would turn to.” And although Hibaq has undoubtedly followed in her mom’s footsteps, she’s definitely carved her own path. “Young people are not succeeding in the way that they should be,” says Hibaq. “By engaging non-traditional stakeholders and community members, we can start building new tools to tackle local issues in entirely different ways.”
One of the big barriers: unemployment. The tool: Community Benefits Agreements—partnerships that connect residents from priority neighbourhoods to work opportunities on local infrastructure projects. It’s a new way of working that United Way is also behind. Just last year, our advocacy led to provincial legislation that ensures Community Benefits will be included in all provincially-funded infrastructure projects moving forward.
WHAT’S NEXT: While a fellow in MaRS’ prestigious Studio Y program, Hibaq created the My Rexdale project, where she began working to tap into planned infrastructure projects in Rexdale—like the proposed casino at Woodbine Racetrack—to connect youth, precariously employed individuals and newcomers to work opportunities spurred as a result of planned development. Through community outreach (and the massive billboard she leveraged next to Highway 27), the idea is on its way to having a big impact in the lives of residents—who are equally thrilled at the prospect of good jobs coming to their neighbourhood.
And Hibaq’s Community Benefits work is just getting started. So far, she’s established a core team of community builders and is assembling a steering committee for the My Rexdale project. She’s also gotten Rexdale residents on-board through community consultations, door-to-door outreach and social media—educating community members about the investments coming so they can advocate on behalf of their community. “We need a strong base of support before we start conversations with big stakeholders,” says Hibaq. “The community is united behind it. This is just the beginning.”
Back-to-school is just around the corner! Which means there’s no better time for Ontario high school students (particularly those just starting Grade 9) to start thinking about how they’ll give back to their communities. That’s why we’re bringing back this popular “cheat sheet” that we created during National Volunteer Week for high school students who are required to complete 40 hours of community service before they graduate. If you’re a parent, we hope you’ll share our tips list with your teen for everything they need to know on getting “volunteer-ready.”
Camara Chambers Director, Community Engagement Volunteer Toronto
Start early: It’s never too early to start thinking about your volunteer service. In Ontario, students can start clocking their community service hours starting right after they finish Grade 8 and all the way up until, and including, Grade 12. It often takes several weeks to secure a volunteer position, so it’s best not to leave it to the last minute, especially if you’re close to graduation. “If you have to squeeze all of those 40 hours into two weeks, you’re going to be setting yourself up for failure,” says Camara Chambers, Director of Community Engagement at Volunteer Toronto. “A great time to start volunteering is during the spring when the annual ChangeTheWorld: Youth Volunteering Challenge takes place.” Since you can’t volunteer during school hours, many students choose to complete their hours during the summer or even March Break. Volunteering at a number of events is another popular option since it gives young people the chance to split their volunteer hours into smaller chunks of time. “It’s also a great opportunity to try different roles, meet lots of different people and get a behind the scenes look at lots of different events throughout the city,” adds Chambers.
1. Do your homework: It’s important to find an opportunity that’s a good match for your personality, skills and future career aspirations. Chambers advises all volunteers to narrow their search using the “3 Rs”— reflect, research and reach out. What do you really want to get out of the experience? Maybe you’re focused on getting some valuable experience for your resume. Or perhaps you want to put a particular skill to good use. Are you interested in working with a particular group of people or on a specific issue such as poverty? Or maybe you just need to find a position that fits into your busy schedule and is close to home or school. Knowing what you want will help you narrow your search once you’re ready. It’s also a good idea to talk to your school guidance counsellor to get pre-approval on your position. “Some schools are more flexible than others and will allow you to volunteer just helping your neighbour,” says Chambers. “Others will want you to do it specifically for a non-profit or a charity.” It’s also important to know your rights. You should expect to have the role clearly explained to you and receive some form of training, even if it’s informal. Having a supervisor or adult mentor is another must. Remember that you can’t be paid for your volunteer service but some organizations provide tokens or small honorariums.
2. Find a role that fits: You’re ready to start your search. The best place to look? Online volunteer databases such as volunteertoronto.ca or yorkinfo.ca that list hundreds of opportunities organized by age and category. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you can also contact individual organizations to learn more about any positions that might be available. Talk to your parents and peers for suggestions, or contact your local place of worship or a charity in your neighbourhood. Don’t forget to factor your personality into the equation. If you’re not comfortable in big groups, choose a role such as one-on-one tutoring. You can even volunteer with your friends at certain fundraising events. Family volunteering opportunities are also available and include delivering meals to seniors. Once you’ve secured your spot, it’s not unusual to complete a brief in-person or phone interview to learn more about the position. Some roles may even require that you attend an information session or day of training.
3. Put your best foot forward: Although you can’t be paid for your volunteer service, treat this opportunity as a valuable learning experience for the future. “It’s really important to leave a good impression. That means turning up on time, asking lots of questions when you don’t understand your responsibilities and communicating honestly, especially if you’re not finding the job enjoyable,“ says Chambers. “The person overseeing you will likely be your reference in the future.” She adds: “If you make a really good impression, your volunteer supervisor will probably introduce you to other people, give you other opportunities or give you more of a leadership role.” And finally, don’t forget to say “thank you” once you’ve completed your position.
4. Become a better citizen (and have fun doing it!): Completing your mandatory 40 hours of volunteer service is about much more than just clocking time. If you want to get the most out of your experience, be prepared to learn. Engage with your peers and supervisor to learn more about the issues facing the organization—and the sector—where you’ve selected your position. When you’re done, stay in touch with any friends or contacts you’ve made along the way. “Volunteering is a fantastic way to try new experiences, meet new people and make new friends,” says Chambers. Maybe you’ll even find something you want to stick with over the long-term.”
Why does it matter? Because in addition to creating opportunities to bring in new jobs, shops and services, RAC zoning can also help to transform tower neighbourhoods into vibrant, livable and walkable communities.
United Way was proud to play a key role in bringing this new legislation to fruition by working with partners, including the City of Toronto and ERA Architects.
Watch this video to hear more from our very own Pedro Barata, VP, Communications and Public Affairs, on what’s next for this exciting initiative.
Toronto Islands, C.N. Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Canada’s Wonderland. With the season halfway over, chances are you’ve already visited one of these summer hot spots. So we put together our own list of community events happening right across our region. Get outside, have some fun and get to know a new neighbourhood.
Looking for an event that brings together residents, young and old? The 5th Annual HOPE Community Garden BBQ takes place August 11 in Vaughan. It’s organized to celebrate the seniors who help grow and nurture the community garden, many of whom participate in this project through wellness programs funded by United Way. It’s a great opportunity for elderly residents, who are more likely to experience isolation, to participate in a community-building event. Come for the BBQ…and stay for an action-packed day full of intergenerational fun!
Taking place in beautiful King City, the Dragon Boat Race for United Way is more than just a fundraiser; it’s a community-building opportunity with something for everyone. Watch the paddlers race to support their region while enjoying music, yummy BBQ, and plenty of activities for kids. With 100% of the fundraising from this event going directly to changing lives across our region, it’s sure to be an incredible day!
Want to enjoy a fun flick with your family in some of Toronto’s many beautiful parks? Park People, a non-profit organization, has teamed up with parks and recreation centres across Toronto—including United Way agencies—to bring movies to the masses this summer. Malvern Family Resource Centre is co-hosting The Lego Movie at Little Road Park on August 12 and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office is co-hosting Madagascar at RV Burgess Park on August 13. Bring your own snacks, camping chairs and blankets and grab a spot for some blockbusters that also bring communities together.
Come out to this 3-day festival to celebrate the cuisine, music, and art of the many diverse cultural communities that make up Scarborough. This year, the festival will also host a Canadian citizenship ceremony to welcome some of the nearly 75,000 newcomers who arrive in Toronto and York Region each year. So get out to Scarborough Civic Centre this summer to celebrate your own cultural background or learn something new about your neighbour.
Now it’s your turn. Tell us how you’re getting to know your community this summer!
100In1Day Toronto is back and is sure to be big—both in scale and impact! Co-presented by United Way Toronto & York Region and Evergreen, 100In1Day is a festival of civic engagement, mobilizing residents to organize small-scale events—“urban activations”—that create positive community change. So, don’t forget to mark June 4 on your calendar. In the meantime, check out these 5 five awesome urban activations you can’t miss.
Black Creek Community Farm: Flex your green thumb this weekend at a gardening workshop in the Jane and Finch community. Presented by Black Creek Community Farm, in partnership with FoodShare Toronto, a United Way agency, the day welcomes seasoned pros and even gardeners-in-training to Toronto’s largest urban farm. Here, residents from across Toronto and York Region will learn about the importance of accessible healthy, sustainable food and get the chance to get their hands dirty by planting vegetables, herbs and pollinator-friendly plants. Plus, the impact of this activation can last more than a day. Participants can volunteer at the garden to watch their hard work blossom.
RAC Burger Shack: Nothing says spring like the smell of burgers! Come enjoy one of the season’s most mouth-watering treats at the RAC burger shack. What’s RAC? This important zoning legislation, which United Way played a key role in advocating for, gives inner-suburban high-rise tower communities in low-income neighbourhoods greater control over local development. This could mean turning a parking lot into a playground or a vacant first floor apartment into a community centre or food market, adding to the vibrancy and livability of neighbourhoods in our community. So stop by for a burger and learn more about RAC zoning. Your feedback can help transform entire apartment complexes into more connected communities!
Community Day of Quilting for Refugees*: Help weave newcomers into the social patchwork of our region by creating a gift they’ll never forget. Join fellow crafters as they hand-sew beautiful quilts to welcome newly-arrived refugees into our community. Not only will you learn a new skill, but your efforts will ensure refugees throughout Toronto and York Region have a heartfelt memento of their new—and caring—community. Feel free to drop by for a few stitches or spend the entire day. Donations of sewing supplies and fabric are appreciated. *Please note that this event is on Sunday, June 5.
Queering the Dinner Table: Stop by FABARNAK café this weekend to serve up your thoughts on what makes restaurants inclusive. Located at The 519, a United Way agency, this 100In1Day activation aims to make dining spaces more welcoming for everyone in our region. How? By welcoming the LGBTQ+ community to share their ideas of how hospitality leaders can better promote inclusivity. So, if you’re in the neighbourhood, be sure to drop by the café and put a more welcoming restaurant scene on our community’s menu.
Thorncliffe & Flemingdon Park Ravine Repair: Be at one with nature this weekend by volunteering at the Thorncliffe & Flemingdon Park Ravine Repair project. Embrace your inner naturalist as you take on the task of ensuring residents from this priority neighbourhood can safely access and enjoy the important community space that ravines provide. There are lots of family-friendly activities to choose from including trail marking, pathway repair and even mural painting for those with artistic flair. And we promise your efforts won’t go unnoticed. At the end of the day, participants are encouraged to invite family and friends to enjoy a potluck picnic—the perfect way to close out a day of rewarding community work!
Looking for more ways to show your community you care? Head to the 100In1Day website for the full list of urban activations in our region.
It’s National Volunteer Week! This year, we’ve put together a “cheat sheet” for Ontario high school students who are required to complete 40 hours of community service before they graduate. If you’re a parent, we hope you’ll share our tips list with your teen for everything they need to know on getting “volunteer-ready.”
Camara Chambers Director, Community Engagement Volunteer Toronto
1. Start early: It’s never too early to start thinking about your volunteer service. In Ontario, students can start clocking their community service hours starting right after they finish Grade 8 and all the way up until, and including, Grade 12. It often takes several weeks to secure a volunteer position, so it’s best not to leave it to the last minute, especially if you’re close to graduation. “If you have to squeeze all of those 40 hours into two weeks, you’re going to be setting yourself up for failure,” says Camara Chambers, Director of Community Engagement at Volunteer Toronto. “A great time to start volunteering is during the spring when the annual ChangeTheWorld: Youth Volunteering Challenge takes place. Since you can’t volunteer during school hours, many students choose to complete their hours during the summer or even March Break. Volunteering at a number of events is another popular option since it gives young people the chance to split their volunteer hours into smaller chunks of time. “It’s also a great opportunity to try different roles, meet lots of different people and get a behind the scenes look at lots of different events throughout the city,” adds Chambers.
2. Do your homework: It’s important to find an opportunity that’s a good match for your personality, skills and future career aspirations. Chambers advises all volunteers to narrow their search using the “3 Rs”— reflect, research and reach out. What do you really want to get out of the experience? Maybe you’re focused on getting some valuable experience for your resume. Or perhaps you want to put a particular skill to good use. Are you interested in working with a particular group of people or on a specific issue such as poverty? Or maybe you just need to find a position that fits into your busy schedule and is close to home or school. Knowing what you want will help you narrow your search once you’re ready. It’s also a good idea to talk to your school guidance counsellor to get pre-approval on your position. “Some schools are more flexible than others and will allow you to volunteer just helping your neighbour,” says Chambers. “Others will want you to do it specifically for a non-profit or a charity.” It’s also important to know your rights. You should expect to have the role clearly explained to you and receive some form of training, even if it’s informal. Having a supervisor or adult mentor is another must. Remember that you can’t be paid for your volunteer service but some organizations provide tokens or small honorariums.
3. Find a role that fits: You’re ready to start your search. The best place to look? Online volunteer databases such as volunteertoronto.ca or yorkinfo.ca that list hundreds of opportunities organized by age and category. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you can also contact individual organizations to learn more about any positions that might be available. Talk to your parents and peers for suggestions, or contact your local place of worship or a charity in your neighbourhood. Don’t forget to factor your personality into the equation. If you’re not comfortable in big groups, choose a role such as one-on-one tutoring. You can even volunteer with your friends at certain fundraising events. Family volunteering opportunities are also available and include delivering meals to seniors. Once you’ve secured your spot, it’s not unusual to complete a brief in-person or phone interview to learn more about the position. Some roles may even require that you attend an information session or day of training.
4. Put your best foot forward: Although you can’t be paid for your volunteer service, treat this opportunity as a valuable learning experience for the future. “It’s really important to leave a good impression. That means turning up on time, asking lots of questions when you don’t understand your responsibilities and communicating honestly especially if you’re not finding the job enjoyable,”says Chambers. “These people will likely be your reference in the future.” She adds: “If you make a really good impression, your volunteer supervisor will probably introduce you to other people, give you other opportunities or give you more of a leadership role.” And finally, don’t forget to say “thank you” once you’ve completed your position.
5. Become a better citizen (and have fun doing it!): Completing your mandatory 40 hours of volunteer service is about much more than just clocking time. If you want to get the most out of your experience, be prepared to learn. Engage with your peers and supervisor to learn more about the issues facing the organization—and the sector—where you’ve selected your position. When you’re done, stay in touch with any friends or contacts you’ve made along the way. “Volunteering is a fantastic way to try new experiences, meet new people and make new friends,” says Chambers. Maybe you’ll even find something you want to stick with over the long-term.”
It’s a new year—and we’re excited to introduce you to some trailblazing changemakers across our region. With innovation, passion and a whole lot of hard work, they’re helping change lives and transform entire communities.
First up? Zahra Ebrahim, Co-CEO of Doblin Canada, a design-led innovation firm based in Toronto that works to solve tough business challenges in the non-profit, government and private sectors.
WHO: She’s been called a “civic rockstar” by her fans on social media. She was featured as one of “Tomorrow’s Titans” in Toronto Life’s Most Influential issue. And she recently shared her city building passion as a featured speaker at TEDxToronto. But it’s the urbanist’s trailblazing work connecting 75 youth from a Toronto priority neighbourhood with an opportunity to completely transform their local community hub that earned her a spot on our list.
WHY: With a background in architecture and design, Zahra played an integral role in the Community. Design. Initiative., an award-winning collaboration between architects, designers, urban planners, academics and residents. The multi-year project is transforming a United Way agency—East Scarborough Storefront—into an innovative, 10,000-square-foot community services hub in Kingston Galloway Orton Park. “This project is a great example of finding ways to engage people who wouldn’t ordinarily be involved in a multi-year building initiative like this—including young people living in poverty—in the design, fundraising, permitting, zoning and building of this inner suburban agency,” says Zahra. Learn more here.
An architectural drawing of East Scarborough Storefront.
WHAT’S NEXT? Zahra will be busy in 2016! She’s currently fulfilling her dream of bringing design thinking education to high school students across Canada through her support of The Learning Partnership. She’s also helping some of the country’s biggest organizations rethink how they do business by introducing consumer-first strategies that put equal emphasis on financial and social bottom lines. Zahra also continues to be passionate about driving change in the non-profit sector by connecting communities and decision makers to create meaningful, sustainable change. “I believe passionately that we need to share ownership with communities. I’ve always been really focused on the ‘how’ of change-making in the non-profit space versus the ‘what’.”
With the federal election fast approaching, countless Canadians will be heading to the ballot box on October 19 to vote on the issues that matter most to them. But many residents who face barriers—including a low-income, lack of education, and newcomer status—are not engaged in the democratic process.
United Way recently teamed up with Samara Canada to bring a unique voting simulation experience—Vote PopUp—to residents at Community Hubs in two priority neighbourhoods. The goal? To foster interest in the upcoming election—and to generate a larger discussion about the importance of adding your voice to the conversation to fuel community change and ensure a more promising future.
1. Tell me a little bit about Vote PopUp training and what you learned.
The civic process varies greatly throughout the world, so casting your vote for the first time in Canada can be intimidating—whether you’re a newcomer or a local first-time voter. I’m originally from the Philippines and although I’m not a Canadian citizen yet, I took part in the workshop to ensure I’m prepared when the time comes. We learned about registering, ID requirements, locating a polling station, and we even practiced casting a ballot.
2. Why do you think civic literacy is important?
In any democratic society, residents need to have a say in their future. Considering voter participation is continuing to drop in Canada, civic literacy is incredibly important now more than ever. That’s how change happens—by having your voice heard, engaging in your community and actively participating in the democratic process. Knowledge is power. When you have the information and the right tools, you can make informed decisions to encourage change.
3. Voting isn’t the only way to bring about community change.
It’s true. Although many of my neighbours are newcomers and are not eligible to vote, it’s not the only way we can bring about change—whether it’s through small scale resident-led projects or advocating for vital needs in your neighbourhood or region. Community engagement starts at a grassroots level. A perfect example of this is the Bathurst-Finch Community Choir, which began when one inspiring young woman had a simple idea to create a neighbourhood choir. With the support of the Community Hub and ANC, she used her passion for music to connect her community. The choir has helped newcomers build relationships with their neighbours and is even helping seniors overcome isolation. When a community comes together for a common cause, meaningful change begins.
4. What are some other issues that matter to you and the people that live in your neighbourhood?
I’ve talked to many Bathurst-Finch residents about the issues in the community that matter to them. Three concerns stand out: affordable housing, employment and childcare. I see families who are not able to access childcare because the cost of rent is too high. Others struggle to find meaningful employment. Thankfully, we have resources like United Way’s Bathurst-Finch Community Hub that helps tackle some of these issues. But, there’s always more room for change.
Working together with donors and community partners, United Way has opened seven Community Hubs throughout our region with an eighth currently in development. These Hubs serve more than one purpose. Although they act as a one-stop shop where people can access vital programs and services all under one roof, they are also places where residents come to build community. In 2005, Toronto identified 13 priority neighbourhoods that are home to some of our most vulnerable residents—many of whom are isolated from crucial social services, supports and infrastructure. Community Hubs bridge these gaps. Although neighbourhoods throughout our communities differ greatly, that’s the common thread between them. Whether a neighbourhood is made up of a high concentration of newcomers, residents living on a low income, single mothers or youth who are not graduating, Community Hubs bring together resources to provide a place that supports the diverse growing needs of a community.
What services do they offer?
Community Hubs offer a wide breadth of services based on a community’s needs—that’s why the Hub model is so effective. We’re able to work with community leaders and residents to discuss what their vision is for the space. For example, at the Dorset Park Community Hub, we were able to match community partners to the needs of the community to offer food bank access, newcomer settlement supports, early childhood programs and employment resources. We also offer recreational space including a computer lab and community kitchen.
Why are Community Hubs so important?
Community Hubs are an important part of building stronger neighbourhoods because they involve people who live in the community—and know the issues first-hand—in every stage of the development and ongoing operation. Residents are ingrained in the decision-making process because they want to make their community better. When Dorset Park residents saw that a Community Hub was opening, they felt truly invested. They felt that a funder like United Way believed in them so they took ownership of the space. The Hub represents opportunity for the community—opportunity to have their needs met, cultivate new relationships, discover a sense of empowerment and to become active participants in creating a stronger neighbourhood.
What role do local residents play in supporting the activities and ongoing operation of the Hubs?
Community Hubs could not thrive without the support of residents. Before the Hubs opened, residents wanted to get engaged in their community, but lacked the infrastructure, mentorship and organization to get community-led initiatives off the ground. They wanted a space where they could come together and start projects of their own.
An example I always highlight is the Women`s English Circle that started when a group of women identified that many newcomers in the community wanted to learn English. Though the program was initially successful, when it moved over to the Dorset Park Community Hub, membership grew exponentially. Now, 80 women actively participate in the program, most of whom were formerly isolated. This resident-led program not only gives women the opportunity to learn English, but more importantly, it’s connecting them with other women in the community. Now, the participants are actively engaging in other resources, have become volunteers and are even running initiatives of their own.
Want to learn more about the vital role Community Hubs play in neighbourhoods across our region? Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn on August 27, 28 and 29 to learn how Community Hubs are hosting free eye exams and bringing glasses to people in under-served communities. The mobile eye clinic is thanks to a unique collaboration between United Way, VSP Vision Care, Buck Consultants and Xerox.
Our guest blogger this week is James Gen Meers, Executive Director of the Pan Am Path Art Relay. The Art Relay, sponsored in part by United Way Toronto, combines art and sport to create a living path across the city, including some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. The goal of the 3-month project, which will stretch across an 80-kilometre trail, is to celebrate our city’s greatest assets: diversity, nature and arts. It will also help to strengthen priority neighbourhoods across our city by breaking down physical barriers and connecting residents with each other. James has previously served as a Senior Advisor with the Ontario Government and has helped produce more than 100 citizen “talk salons” in his role as progressive community builder.
Under a highway underpass is a freshly painted mural created by a Toronto street artist. It’s one of numerous murals that are springing up in parks and on underpasses this summer along the Pan Am Path—an 84-kilometre continuous trail for walking, running, cycling and wheeling that connects the city from east to west.
The works are part of the Pan Am Path Art Relay, a series of unique art installations and festivals travelling across Toronto that celebrate some of the city’s greatest assets: diversity, nature, arts and active outdoor living.
The Art Relay was started by a group of Toronto artists and city-builders in collaboration with the City of Toronto. It is organized by the Friends of the Pan Am Path and receives funding from the City and numerous organizations, including United Way Toronto. The Path travels through many of the 13 priority neighbourhoods where United Way is targeting efforts to meet the urgent needs of residents living in poverty and build stronger communities.
These city-wide installations and festivals are about much more than just beautiful artwork. The Art Relay helps improve physical infrastructure to link parkland across neighbourhoods in Toronto’s inner suburbs. By breaking down physical barriers, Pan Am Path is helping to connect priority neighbourhoods across our city, encouraging residents to enjoy their natural backyards through arts, music, cycling and running or walking. It’s another way United Way Toronto is working with dedicated and passionate city builders to re-imagine our city for our residents.
The “Album” Mural
Artist Tristan R. Whiston, along with partner Anna Camilleri, is responsible for a mural called “Album” under the Dundas Street W. bridge near Lambton House. Tristan says he often encounters people enjoying nature and art on the Path. “Every day as I’m working on this mural, people are stopping me and I am spreading the story and the meaning behind this artwork,” he says. “This Art Relay gets us out of our houses and onto this beautiful path.”
Further along the western tip of the Path, a small community group called Freedom Fridayz recently celebrated their fifth anniversary with a day-long festival that included painting, dance, song and poetry. The group formed to provide a platform for Jane –Finch community members to both showcase and celebrate their skills, talents and knowledge. United Way Toronto and its partners, including the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre played a key role in bringing residents out to celebrate another milestone in improving their local neighborhood.
As the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat is committed to creating places where people flourish. Over the past decade, she has been recognized by the Canadian Institute of Planners and OPPI for her innovative work in Canadian municipalities. Most recently, Jennifer was named as one of the most influential people in Toronto by Toronto Life magazine and one of the most powerful people in Canada by Maclean’s magazine. Her planning practice is characterized by an emphasis on collaborations across sectors, and broad engagement with municipal staff, councils, developers, business leaders, NGOs and residents’ associations. Jennifer is also a member of United Way Toronto’s 2015 Campaign Cabinet. Imagine a City spoke to Jennifer on why community consultation is key to building more livable neighbourhoods.
We know that livability in our city’s inner-suburban “Tower Neighbourhoods” is a serious challenge. Toronto contains the second largest concentration of high-rise buildings in North America. Today there are more than 1,000 of these concrete towers across our inner suburbs. When they were designed in the 1950s primarily for the middle class, they were designed for one “use” only—housing. Tower Neighbourhoods weren’t planned to be diverse. You couldn’t go to the doctor, you couldn’t buy groceries, you couldn’t go to a restaurant. They quickly became less desirable places to live than other vibrant urban centres. They weren’t well-connected in terms of their pedestrian access and they weren’t connected to transit. These communities were subsequently abandoned by the middle class and became landing pads for new immigrants, many living in poverty.
United Way’s Tower Neighbourhood Renewal strategy aims to improve quality of life for residents in these high-rise communities. An important part of this strategy is consulting with residents who live there and engaging them in the planning process. We consult with thousands of residents in this city every year. But one of the things we’ve discovered is that the participants in our planning process are generally white, middle-class homeowners. Last year, as a result of collaborations with a variety of different partners, including United Way Toronto, we were able to bring in voices from Tower neighbourhoods that desperately needed to be at the table: voices from immigrants, voices from marginalized residents, voices from people struggling with poverty, voices from people that don’t have English as a first language and voices from people who are more reliant on social services in our city. These are the people that typically have a really hard time accessing our processes in the first place. United Way has worked very hard to build trust and relationships within the communities that we would like to better engage in our planning processes. They’ve helped us to understand the poverty that exists in this city and the need to work more intensively in the Tower Neighbourhoods. Broadening participation in our city building processes underpins creating an equitable city for all Torontonians.
What was the outcome of this community consultation? As a result of tremendous on-going analysis and new collaborations that have involved United Way Toronto, Public Health and the Tower Renewal Office—to name just a few of the players—approximately 500 existing apartment sites in Toronto’s inner suburbs have been identified for inclusion in a new zone—the Residential Apartment Commercial (RAC) Zone. Zoning is essentially the regulations and laws that we have in City Planning that determine which uses—commercial, residential, etc.—can go where. The RAC Zone bylaw loosens up what types of uses are permitted in these Tower communities. For example, it will allow small shops, food markets, cafes, learning centres, barbershops, doctor’s offices, community centres and places of worship that are of benefit to local residents. This is a key step towards creating more complete, livable, walkable communities in Toronto’s Tower neighbourhoods.
Talk about some of the other ways you’re engaging Torontonians in the city planning process? We are broadening participation in City Planning with the goal of making Toronto the most engaged city in North America—at least where planning is concerned. We’re beginning to see social media as an essential tool for communicating engagement opportunities with the public and for people who might not otherwise feel comfortable participating in a community meeting due to physical, financial, family or work constraints. As part of our extensive Eglinton Connects study, for example, 25% of participants heard of the opportunity to participate through social media. We’ve also been working with the City Manager’s Office to pilot IdeaSpaceTO, which is a social media tool that facilitates a high-quality online discussion between residents and the City.
April 12-18 is National Volunteer Week. An opportunity to recognize and celebrate the nearly 13 million Canadians who offer their time, talent and expertise as volunteers each year. According to a Statistics Canada survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating, Canadians contributed close to 2 billion volunteer hours in 2013. Imagine a City spoke with Deloitte’s Leila Fenc, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Deloitte Foundation, on why employee-supported volunteering (ESV) is on the rise and how community-minded companies can leverage the skills and interests of their employees when it comes to giving back.
Tell us a little bit more about employer-supported volunteering (ESV): It can take a number of different forms. But essentially, it’s a firm or company supporting its employees in some way to go out and volunteer in the community. ESV can be anything from painting and planting at a community agency to offering knowledge-based services including management consulting, human resources advice or fundraising strategy to a not-for-profit. At Deloitte, we probably do about 15 to 20 knowledge-based projects like this a year. We also host a single day of volunteer service called “Impact Day” where we shut down our offices across the country and about 80% of our people go out into the community to volunteer, many at United Way agencies.
According to Statistics Canada, overall volunteer rates are down by nearly half-a-million since 2010. However, ESV is on the rise. Why? People lead increasingly busy lives and there are multiple demands on individuals’ time. Employer-supported volunteering helps facilitate giving back to the community by offering the tools, networks and time required to volunteer. At Deloitte, we also provide opportunities for families to volunteer together, which enables them to spend quality time while giving back. Millenials are also demanding these types of opportunities—and organizations want to make sure they’re offering them. Young people, including United Way GenNexters, are passionate about getting involved actively in their communities and finding those leadership opportunities. They want to take ownership of life beyond the workplace.
Why is workplace volunteerism so important to corporate culture? The opportunity for colleagues to volunteer side-by-side in a different environment with people who might not be part of a person’s everyday career group builds relationships and strengthens cohesion within organizations. Workplaces are more productive when there is a greater sense of belonging. At Deloitte, we have a strong focus on inclusion. By allowing people to bring their personal interests into the workplace through volunteering, it fosters that sense of belonging.
Why is ESV important to individual achievement? The relationships and the networks that employees build through volunteerism can greatly support their career. It can also showcase skills they might not otherwise be able to demonstrate during their day-to-day job. Also, volunteering for a non-profit allows our people a glimpse into a world that maybe they hadn’t thought about. We’ve seen in a number of instances our employees become personally committed to organizations they’ve spent the day with. They continue to volunteer and provide service or even join a non-profit board. It sparks something new in them.
How do communities benefit when employees give back through the workplace? Deloitte has nearly 8,000 employees and 57 offices across Canada. Employee volunteerism, especially in some of our smaller centres, builds that sense of connection to the community in a more intimate way. It really allows our people to participate directly in their community and to feel like they are having a direct impact.
Any predictions for the future of workplace volunteering? People are looking for more flexible experiences. It’s just the way the workforce is going. I would expect volunteering opportunities to keep pace with that trend and to allow people the flexibility to engage when it suits their life. A lot of organizations are also experimenting with micro-volunteering, or the ability to commit smaller chunks of time—maybe two or four hours—sometimes online or over the phone. I also think we’re going to see a rise in skills-based volunteering.
Our guest blogger is Tina Edan, a member of The Maytree Foundation’s communications team. Tina has worked on leadership, storytelling and advocacy initiatives in the non-profit sector for more than 15 years.
We talk a lot about resident and civic engagement. But what does it really mean? And why is it so important to building a stronger, united city?
We know from our research that people are healthier when they feel like part of a community and when they can count on family, friends and neighbours for support.
They’re also more likely to stay and raise their family in a neighbourhood where they have strong social connections to the people who live there.
Vibrant communities are built from the ground up. This means engaging and enabling the people who live in these communities—big and small— to enact the changes they want to see. Changes they know will help other residents, and entire neighbourhoods, thrive.
The best part about resident and civic engagement? No project or initiative is too small. Sewing clubs. Little free libraries. Community gardens. All have the power to bring residents together, encourage local leadership, cultivate creativity and strengthen neighbourhoods.
Another example? The Toronto Youth Summit, hosted in partnership with United Way Toronto on March 21 and 22, which asked our city’s young people how they would create possibility for youth in Toronto. To read some of their inspiring ideas, click here.
Need some more suggestions on how to get engaged with your city? How to transform ideas into action? Here’s a sampling of civic engagement initiatives and activities across Toronto—and Canada:
What better way to generate new ideas than over a meal? In October 2014, through 1000 Dinners TO, 1,000 people hosted dinners for up to 10 people across the city. They discussed how to make Toronto an even better place.
We Are Cities is a national campaign that engages Canadians to shape a vision and action plan for building cities that are exciting and healthy places to live, work and play.
These days, if it’s an idea worth following, it has a hashtag. #2forTO is a campaign initiated by Metro Morning to activate civic engagement in our city through small, achievable commitments from creating street libraries to picking up litter.
If you’re looking for a menu of opportunities to share, discuss and create the future of Toronto, you’ll want to check out Shape My City, a platform that aggregates ideas from people across the city on how to improve life in Toronto.
And finally…there’s 100in1Day, a city-wide civic engagement festival co-presented by United Way Toronto and Evergreen. On June 6, 2015, you can join thousands of Torontonians as they engage in small-scale events—everything from taking over parking spots to planting gardens—that result in stronger, more connected and resilient communities.
Through connection we can cultivate ideas; through action we can make change. And today, we have more opportunities to engage than ever.
February is Black History Month. An opportunity for Torontonians to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary achievements and contributions of Black people across the Greater Toronto Area who have done so much to make our city the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous place that it is.
“When we started our exploration in 2010, we set out with one important principle in mind,” says Marva Wisdom, who led Phase 1 of the initiative and is also responsible for project outreach. “Research conducted by, and with, the community is of utmost importance. As one participant noted, ‘No research about us without us’.”
The first phase of the project, which involved consultations with nearly 300 community and youth leaders, local organizations and community members-at-large, was completed last January.
“What we learned is that there is no single ‘Black experience,’ but rather multiple experiences,” says Wisdom. “But as diverse as this community is, we need to find a way be more united in our diversity. Without the power of the strong voice, it’s difficult to be heard when policies are being developed, when governments are making decisions and when we need to advocate on behalf of our youth.”
With the help of a dedicated team of individuals from the community, Phase 2 is already underway. This part of the project will entail in-depth interviews with a representative sample of up to 2,000 individuals across the GTA who self identify as Black, on issues ranging from mental health and education to employment and racial identity.
The third, and final, phase of the Black Experience Project will involve widespread sharing of the results, and most importantly, a conversation around how to put the findings of the study to work both within, and beyond, the GTA’s Black community.
“Our community really owns this study, and it’ll be up to us to decide how to use and adapt the results,” says Wisdom. “I’m hoping this project will drive transformative change in how we view the Black community, and how we are able to leverage our own strengths.”
We’ll bring you more information as the rest of this exciting initiative unfolds. In the meantime, we invite you to get in touch with BEP by following them on Twitter, visiting their website and checking out their Facebook page where each week in February a new video will be posted showing different people sharing their story about being Black.
You can also check out Black History Month events happening across Toronto here.
Tell us a little more about archiTEXT and the idea behind ‘design thinking’: Our organization works primarily with the public sector—government, charities and not-for-profits—to help support community projects. Design thinking brings an added layer to projects by finding ways to engage communities—particularly those that might otherwise be left out of the process—throughout the entire life cycle of the project. This approach takes analytical thinking and equally values imaginative thinking so that communities can really take ownership of both the process and the outcome. Designers and architects are so well positioned to understand people. By strengthening our ability to understand the experience of other human beings, we can design projects that have the highest impact possible, even with limited resources.
The transformation of The Storefront is 50% complete and will include an additional 6,000-sq.-ft. of internal/external space.
Describe the Community.Design.Initiative: This project is a unique collaboration between architects, designers, artists, urban planners, academics and residents that is transforming East Scarborough Storefront-Tides, a United Way Toronto-funded agency, into an innovative, 10, 000-sq.-ft. community services hub in Toronto’s priority neighbourhood of Kingston Galloway Orton Park (KGO). We engaged 75 local youth—many of them facing barriers like poverty—in the design, fundraising, permitting, zoning and building of this inner suburban community agency. We started six years ago and we’re about half-way done. This past summer, we installed a splash pad and sports structure and we’re about to launch a capital campaign to expand even further. This project is a great example of finding ways to engage people who wouldn’t ordinarily be involved in a multi-year building initiative like this.
The Sky-o-Swale, a splash pad and sports structure designed by local youth, was installed last summer.
How has this project led to meaningful social change in the Kingston-Galloway community? CDI is about so much more than just a building. The project has dramatically increased the decision making and leadership capacities of local youth. It’s also transformed the community into an amazing place to stay, to build your life and to invest in. Residents know that their contributions are reflected in the projects they’re involved in—and are truly valued by the community. Youth in KGO know that whether they’re going to design a building, a service or an afterschool program, the first thing they need to do is convene the people they want to serve and ask them what they want. There’s this connective tissue that grows between the professionals, residents, youth and social service providers. The social infrastructure has become so strong. The community trusts its own capacity to change itself.
Design isn’t just about bricks-and-mortar. It can also be used to re-imagine processes, projects and services within the social sector. Any examples? Our studio also works with charitable organizations, foundations and governments to help them use design thinking to more creatively approach their projects. We’re currently working with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and its Youth Opportunities Fund to fundamentally change the grant-making process for youth-led initiatives. We also led the design workshops for last year’s 101 in 1 Day, a civic engagement festival supported by United Way Toronto and Evergreen CityWorks. We’re also working with Evergreen and the McConnell Foundation —a co-created national urban agency—to engage citizens in 30 cities across Canada to develop a policy agenda together.
What are you most excited about moving forward? Design thinking is still a fairly new field. If we can continue to approach social change from a design mindset, I think it will be transformative for the social services sector. It will make entire communities more resilient by increasing collaboration and strengthening their ability to understand each other.
One aspect has been to rethink and modernize the planning and policy framework of these neighbourhoods – to match rules and regulations with the lived realities, and resident desired change within these remarkable neighbourhoods.
The current challenge stems from the fact that most of these neighbourhoods were designed and built in the 1960s and ‘70s. At that time, it was assumed that a good neighbourhood was one where you would drive to work, drive to daycare, drive to the mall, drive to see friends, and so on. Every convenience was just a quick drive away.
Toronto’s zoning by-laws reinforced this kind of neighbourhood design through single-use zoning – apartments in one area, shopping in another, with little or no room for change. That is why we see so few shops, cafés, grocers, community centres, and other conveniences near Toronto’s towers.
Today, Toronto’s tower residents are not typically drivers or car owners: they rely on walking and transit to get around. That means that the neighbourhood destinations of the ‘60s are no longer within reasonable reach, and many neighbourhoods find themselves isolated, lacking the needed shops, services, local food, local childcare, local opportunities, and other ingredients of healthy neighborhoods.
It’s time for a change. And that change seems to be coming.
Through research, advocacy, and collaboration, a new zoning framework has been developed – the “Residential Apartment Commercial” zone – and is poised for implementation in hundreds of Toronto’s vertical neighbourhoods.
This new zone will remove barriers for a range of exciting small-scale businesses and community services. With a new legal framework that aligns better with residents’ needs and wishes, Apartment Neighbourhoods across the city can begin the process of incremental change – toward more complete, economically diverse, and more convenient communities for the hundreds of thousands of Torontonians that call these neighbourhoods home.
From pop-up markets, to cafés, to specialized community services, the aim of the new zoning is to allow services in and to let people experiment – to open new opportunities never before possible.
A City-wide zoning change of this type is a first for Toronto, and would not have been possible without a diverse group of collaborators and stakeholders working together, often in new ways. It is a testament to what is possible through collaboration, and perhaps the start of new way for social agencies, local communities, architects, and the City to work together towards a brighter Toronto.
But changing the rules is just the start. The next phase of the project will be to work with residents, community organizations, and other stakeholders to realize this new zoning’s potential on the ground. This is an exciting time for Toronto, and there is much work ahead.
Our guest blogger this week is Sevaun Palvetzian, the Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance.
Sevaun held a number of positions in the Ontario government prior to joining CivicAction–most recently as the Director of the Ontario Place Revitalization project.
She has also been involved in a wide range of civic initiatives–from serving as Chair of the Board of Directors of Katimavik Youth Services to being a member of the Advisory Board to the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.
April 6-12 is National Volunteer Week. CivicAction is powered by an incredible network of established and rising leaders who volunteer their time taking on the region’s toughest economic, social and environmental issues.
This diverse group of civic-minded individuals go beyond the demands of their profession to seek positive change. Their many contributions benefit a variety of communities and inspire others to do the same, proving that we are stronger as a region when we work together. Their positive impact is felt across a spectrum of issues, from accelerating regional transportation, to enhancing economic performance, to fostering inclusion and resilience.
While we have many examples of wonderful volunteers at CivicAction, I’d like to share the work of our Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) – a network of 800+ rising leaders who share a passion for city-building and take action on the issues facing our city region.
Last month at our ELNshowcase, project teams presented the work they’d done in just a few short months on the issues of employing people with disabilities, improving energy efficiency in residential towers, putting unemployed teachers to work, training Aboriginal youth on media, and others. Between their demanding careers and family commitments, the project teams and the advisors they enlisted have all been volunteering their time to develop these projects.
Why? Because they are passionate about the issues they chose to tackle and because they love this city region and want to see it thrive.
While we love CivicAction’s volunteers, they are hardly alone in their efforts. Across Canada and around the world, volunteerism is a critical component of civic engagement.
According to Statistics Canada, over 13.3 million people – accounting for 47% of Canadians aged 15 and over – did volunteer work in 2010. They devoted almost 2.07 billion hours to their volunteer activities: a volume of work that is equivalent to just under 1.1 million full-time jobs.
Approximately 140 million people in the 37 countries studied engage in volunteer work in a typical year—representing 12% of the total adult population of those countries.
If those 140 million volunteers comprised the population of a country, it would be the 8th largest country in the world.
Those 140 million volunteers represent the equivalent of 20.8 million full-time equivalent jobs.
Volunteers make a US$400 billion contribution to the global economy; that would make it the 7th largest economy in Europe.
Volunteer input represents 68 percent of total private philanthropy in the countries studied.
Volunteers represent 44 percent of the nonprofit workforce in those countries.
That’s a huge impact!
As we salute today’s volunteers, I encourage us to think about the next generation of volunteers and how trends in digital or micro-volunteering may alter how and why they volunteer. Judging by the first ten years, I’m confident our volunteers will help to inspire and guide us along that journey.
Together with Evergreen CityWorks, we’re inviting every Torontonian to get creative and submit an act of urban change or interventionfor making Toronto the best city it can be.
Whether you’re thinking about choreographing a community dance to promote a youth organization like they did in Cape Town or addressing pedestrian safety by transforming a crosswalk like they did in Montreal, starting a community garden, hosting a music workshop or connecting with neighbours by inviting them for a tour of your eco-friendly home — your idea — completely new or based on an existing initiative — is welcome. It just has to take place on June 7, 2014.
We are looking for 100 interventions from individuals, community groups or organizations to be part of the day-long city-wide festival.
Spread the word about 100 in 1 Day via Twitter (#100in1day), Facebook and in-person (even at your own dinner table!) to get people in your network to register an idea/intervention.
Join us on June 7 and experience the transformation of our city through 100 citizen-driven interventions.
Not convinced yet? By contributing an intervention, you’ll have an opportunity to share out an existing idea or test out a new one that you are passionate about and have it profiled as part of a big day for city building. It could also be selected as one of three interventions which the Toronto Community Foundation will contribute $10,000 to developing. Evergreen CityWorks will also contribute non-financial support to the long-term feasibility of the idea.
Thanks to our guest blogger, Tina Edan! She’s part of the United Way team and has worked on leadership, storytelling and advocacy initiatives in the non-profit sector for fifteen years. She believes all Torontonians have a role to play in telling the story of our city.
With Black History Month well underway, Imagine A City is taking a look this week at just a handful of this month’s goings-on. Since the big events will get all the press, we thought we’d present a few under-the-radar events happening in communities across the city.
Of course, we can’t possibly list everything, so we’re sticking to a few that caught our attention—share what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Ekow Nimako: Building Black Ghanian-Canadian sculptor Ekow Nimako will use 50,000 LEGO pieces to build striking art pieces that explore history, race, folklore and identity. It’s one of three Black History art shows hosted at Daniels Spectrum this month.
Mackenzie House Celebrates Black History Month Every weekend this month, the museum housed in the historic home of Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, will feature an exhibit on the reporters and newspapers who covered the city’s burgeoning Black community in the Victorian era. Visitors can print out their own copy of The Provincial Freeman, an 1850s newspaper that served as a landmark voice in the anti-slavery movement, and was co-published by Mary Ann Shadd, the first Black, female publisher in North America.
The Bluffs Gallery hosts “Akwaaba,” a month-long celebration comprised of three week-long exhibits by African-Canadian artists with roots in Scarborough—including Robert Small, creator of Canada’s first Black History Month posters.
Urban Book Expo On February 8, the Malvern Community Centre will see the first-ever exposition of fiction focusing on the Black urban experience in Toronto.
York Woods Library Jane-Finch’s York Woods Library will host a number of events, including a childrens’ story afternoon on February 8, and a screening of a new, feature-length documentary about Bob Marley on February 20, including a post-film discussion.
And there will also be a whole host of other Toronto Public Library-hosting events, all across town. Check their website to see what’s near you.
Before we broke for the holidays, Imagine a City touched briefly on a surprising statistic that came out of the Toronto’s Chief Planner’s Roundtable last autumn: Up to 60 percent of residents in some of Toronto’s inner-suburban tower neighbourhoods don’t have a driver’s license. (City-wide, most neighbourhoods come in between 20 and 40 percent.)
The easiest way to get a handle on the issue is visually, so thanks to Global News for this map, showing that it’s precisely the parts of the city with the least transit access—distant from current and planned subway and streetcar lines—where residents are also least likely to drive.
These are neighbourhoods that were built around the automobile—when they were designed in the 1950s and ’60s, it was assumed that residents would use cars for most daily tasks. As a result, distances between employment, homes, shops and community spaces are often huge, transit service is less frequent, and, as architect Graeme Stewart wrote at Imagine a City in 2012, pedestrian infrastructure is lacking: sidewalks suddenly end, fences block shortcuts, and cul-de-sacs often make it impossible to walk straight from one destination to another.
Pedestrian amenities are few and far between in many of Toronto’s tower neighbourhoods
Limited mobility, of course, makes nearly every other barrier faced in these neighbourhoods even more pressing.
To take just one example: many of these communities have been identified as “food deserts,” where large grocery stores or other sources of fresh, healthy, affordable food are sparse or non-existent.
That might not seem very far, but a round trip, on foot, in all kinds of weather, can be a major trek (especially with an armful of groceries). Instead, shopping at nearby corner stores and fast-food restaurants are the more convenient ways to feed a family.
In the fall, the Planner’s Roundtable featured a number of suggestions for tackling these problems, many of which are echoed in United Way’s research on tower neighbourhoods: enabling grassroots and resident-led businesses, encouraging flexible zoning to permit more commercial and community spaces closer to homes, and, of course, improving transit.
Join the discussion in the comments, and share your ideas on how getting around can get easier for the 500,000-plus Torontonians living in our tower neighbourhoods.