Friday, 10 May 2013

Dorset Park Hub Helps Community Grow

I am proud to be quoted in this story on TO's newest community hub alongside Abeer Ali & Suganthine Sivakumar - two Scarborough women whose work ethic and committment to neighbourhood building is inspiring.

Link to article and full text below ...

The Dorset Park Community Hub is like a tree, and donations to the United Way are “like a seed planted in our community soil” that made it grow, area resident Abeer Ali said at a celebration this week.

“It’s a new life for us,” she said of the converted Kennedy Road plaza building that finally gives tenants from nearby apartment highrises a place to meet and, as Ali put it, to create their own memories.

Bryan Heal said people in Dorset Park are thinking about their future too.

“Residents and community members have taken ownership of this initiative right down to its very bones,” said Heal, a member of the Dorset Park Neighbourhood Association.

“Far from taking a gift like this for granted we’re working our tails off.”

The sort of activities seen at 1911 Kennedy just north of Ellesmere Road weren’t possible when the hub was still a dream and the local headquarters of Action for Neighbourhood Change, “a small outpost above the Hopper Hut,” a restaurant across the street, served as a community incubator.    

Suganthine Sivakumar, a resident since 2000, said a lack of space in the ANC office - or anywhere else - was a constant problem for people who wanted to organize programs or learn about their adopted country.

Sivakumar tried anyway, forming an English Circle with two other local women. “Lots of ladies need their English to improve. That’s why they’re staying home,” she said.

After three years, Sivakumar was hired to coordinate the women-only program, which operates Monday and Tuesday mornings at the hub and Wednesday and Friday mornings at McGregor Recreation Centre.

The 10,000-square-foot hub building, which opened its doors in November is visible, safe and has been used by 15,000 people, she said. “We can see new faces in here every day.”

The place is home to sewing classes, a community kitchen, a food bank, and programs for children and seniors, plus offices for the DPNA and agency partners led by Agincourt Community Services Association and ranging from the John Howard Society of Toronto to the CNIB.

In a program room hung with ceiling streamers, United Way Toronto CEO Susan McIsaac recalled it’s been almost a decade since the charity’s Poverty By Postal Code report found many Toronto communities had fallen far behind in their access to important services.

United Way, it was decided, had to invest in the city’s inner suburbs and enable residents who lived there, but McIsaac said without hard work from those residents hubs like Dorset Park’s wouldn’t have come to life.

The neighbourhood, centred on a stretch of Kennedy Road known for discount commercial sales, is one the city more or less created from Highway 401 to a few blocks south of Lawrence Avenue (the southernmost street it covers is Flora Drive), and from Birchmount Road to Midland Avenue.

Dorset Park - the real Dorset Park - is a local green space southwest of the Kennedy and Ellesmere intersection, and the area’s classification around 2005 as a “priority neighbourhood” has not been understood or welcomed by all.

But Aisha Farah, who served on the local youth council and is now part of a women’s cooking group for Canlish Road residents, said she considers Dorset Park home and “one of the most functional” of the 13 “priority” districts, a place, she said, that welcomes everybody.

“I’ve been showered by smiles from strangers, offered foods from very many ethnic flavours,” said Farah.

People at Tuesday’s official opening celebration also applauded Tami and George Cope, and Bill and Jan Hatanaka, part of a list of United Way donors which contributed $1 million between them.

Bill Hatanaka later said he grew up in Dorset Park “probably 50 yards from here.” He had been shocked, he said, to be shown a map of priority neighbourhoods, with the place where he enjoyed such a good upbringing included among them, but added “infrastructure often doesn’t keep up.”

The hub is a chance for people who are just like himself when he was young; it is a bridge to help establish themselves, Hatanaka said.