Month: September, 2010

Shelter Schmelter! Is it really all in the name?

Me and Colleen ready to start our day.

Well…I’ve visited 14 of the 120 charitable organizations I’m planning to visit over the next 8 months and already I’m itching to act on what I’ve learned.  There are so many positives, they outweigh the negative 100 fold, but there is still work to do to move this sector forward.  Our government needs to be more proactive and think strategically, they need to engage and have more dialogues with this sectors front line workers.  We must advocate for more effectiveness, fairness, collaboration on behalf of those working in and those who depend on the social service sector.

I’ve met the most phenomenal people whose passion seems to be emanating from their pores. I’m a little jealous of their ability to work on the front lines and of the way they can manage and make the best of anything that comes their way.  Their salaries certainly can’t be fair compensation for the way they work to keep people safe and fed and sheltered and educated and cared for. At the same time stretching with every ounce of their being the dollars they have to work with to create added value for their clients and for our communities in general.

Our world is changing quickly and we need to keep up.  I assure you that whether or not you will ever require the services of a charitable organization, their existence and their reason for being IMPACTS us all!


Me at the FoodShare greenhouse.

FOODSHARE was started 25 years ago by Art Eggleton, the Mayor of the City of Toronto.

They are a Community Development and Food Literacy Program and are involved in a variety of initiatives: grassroots program delivery, advocacy, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labeling.

FoodShare help schools set up gardens, teach kids about the seeding, planting, harvesting process and then work with them to put together a maintenance team that will be responsible for the upkeep, before transitioning out of the school.

There is a real interest in food and nutrition amongst students and teachers and Food Share would like to be able to support that interest.

Debbie, thanks for lunch.  Good luck with you upcoming event down at Queens Park.

Check out their website for more information…they really do so much more than I’ve captured here.

Sybil, Deena, me, Suraya

HOMES FIRST SOCIETY – Strachan House – is one of 16 homes designed to provide overnight shelter, transitional housing, shared accommodation and independent living opportunities that facilitate the transition from the street to temporary shelter to permanent accommodation.

Strachan House deals with the most difficult to house. Those considered Long Term Homeless or Hardest to House…those whose pattern of homelessness is a tough one to break.  Most of their clients are mentally ill and require a lot of support…appointments, follow ups, reminders.  There are 76 units at the House for single men and/or women.

I could have spent the entire day with the 3 amazing women we met here.  Their common sense and no nonsense, honest approach with me was so meaningful…I appreciated every second of the 1 ½ hours we spent with them.

We talked a little about how we have come to value each other…how we base our assumptions of people on what they have or what they can access.  It’s true isn’t it…I have to admit I’ve been a bit guilty of that?! These experiences are really helping me shape my assumptions quite differently.  It’s just amazing how learning about others has a sneaky way of making you look at yourself a little differently.

When I asked Deena to share one of her challenges with me, she described how one of the biggest problems for the long term homeless is that they do not have “the luxury of wanting”.  I found that incredibly sad, yet understood it completely.  They have had so little for so long that they do not have the desire to want for anything anymore.

Thank you Deena, Sybil and Suraya…you are truly inspiring!

Filomena, Colleen, Dwight

HORIZONS FOR YOUTH is a Shelter for homeless youth ages 16 -24 where they can stay for a period of 3 – 6 months.  In some cases where the youth are successful at staying in school in the area or are thriving in the Horizons environment, their stay can be extended.

Along with a roof over their heads and in an effort to teach them the life skills they need to live and thrive successfully on their own, Horizons provides youth with (among many other things) the support they need to find a job, complete their education, learn simple life skills and secure housing.

About 75% of the youth have been directed to them through the Childrens Aid Society and many of them have mental health issues. These young people are often overlooked or the “forgotten population”.  There is little mental health support/organizations that support this age group…they do not receive the same sympathy or compassion offered to younger children with similar issues…society does not look at this population as victims.

What I learned here was incredibly interesting and incredibly frustrating!  Horizons is given the designation of a “Shelter” which means they are only meant to provide a roof over the heads of these young people overnight.  The youth are expected to leave the Shelter at 9 in the morning and not come back until 4 in the afternoon.  I’m assuming the Shelter system was designated this way to encourage people to be out working or in school during the day…wishful thinking, but not accurate thinking.  These young people don’t have the skills they need to get jobs, nor do many of them have the desire to be in a school or the understanding of what an education can mean for them. Fortunately, Horizons has a dedicated team that have developed programs and opportunities for these students they house to gain work experience and/or engage them back in school.  None of this is funded by the government, so they need to work hard to fundraise for these programs.

From what I understand if you are designated a “Shelter”, you are funded differently (less money per client) than if you are considered a Transition House which is intended to be more of a full service environment.

Horizons for Youth

I’m not really clear on why if we have access to the youth that are already coming to a place for shelter, would we not keep them engaged at that shelter rather than kick them out to fend for themselves during the days. Luckily, the clients of Horizons have many more options available to them despite the organizations designation.

Filomena and Dwight, thanks for the tour and all of your time…you taught me lots!


Horizons For Youth and Strachan House are always looking for some of the following for their clients.  If you can help, please contact them.

HORIZONS – Personal Care items; shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorants…you get the idea.

As well as gently used (OR NEW) coats, gloves, hats.

STRACHAN – Housewares; plates, cutlery, vases, pots, wall hangings…things to fancy or pretty up the clients units.

To give or not to give? HOW, is the question.

Lots of talk around the story in the news yesterday about charities and their misuse of donated dollars.   Here’s a link to the story that questioned their use of third party fundraisers and misuse of donors funds.

I was most interested in the comments that people posted following the article.  Some said they were disappointed and were planning to stop donating to organizations, some felt they were being ripped off by charities and others felt the story was really alarmist and was filling the gap on a slow news day.  I feel it is what it is…just like everything else we see in the media, it’s what we do with the information that matters.

I can’t agree or disagree with any of those comments; they belong to the people that posted them.  I can however say what I believe to be true…we all have a responsibility to help our communities thrive.    Whether we advocate on behalf of an issue, volunteer where volunteers are needed, support charities financially or vote whenever we have the opportunity to, we should all be active participants in the betterment of our communities.

It’s important to give responsibly…to understand the organization(s) you’re giving to, learn about the impact of your donation, what will it do and whom is it benefiting.  If you choose to give to someone that shows up at your door with a laminated hand made badge hanging from their neck, don’t be surprised if you don’t get a valid receipt. And I encourage you to insist on getting a receipt each time you make a donation whether or not you are going to claim your donations at the end of the year…it encourages accountability on behalf of the charity. If you donate over the phone using your credit card number (don’t!).  Whenever possible write a cheque, its much easier to track if you become suspicious of the organization somewhere down the road.

As tempting as it might be to give to panhandlers on the street, consider giving to an organization that will provide them with the food or shelter or counseling they need. Although giving directly to a panhandler may provide instant gratification (particularly if they are kind enough to thank you, bless you or promise to pray for you), you’re not doing them a whole lot of good.  I’m not suggesting that you stop tossing change into a cup, just don’t let your support stop there.  A little more effort could create a much greater impact.

There are many thing I loved about the organizations I visited yesterday, but the thing I admired the most about everyone I spoke with is that they were all very realistic about the difference they were making.  They weren’t setting out to “Save the World”, just to making a positive contribution to the lives of the people they could work with directly. Providing meals to those that might otherwise not eat,  developing skills in youth that will give them job opportunities they might otherwise not have and providing a safe place and shoulder to those feeling lost in a country they do not know.

Actually, if we ALL set out to do our part, we could be  saving our world, couldn’t we?

Colleen, Brother John and Me

The first charity we visited offers clients a full meal including coffee and dessert for $1.  St. Francis Table expects to serve their millionth meal by the end of this fall.  Brother John showed us through an efficient, lean, well run, organized and respectful centre.  He works with roughly 90 volunteers a week who show up to help prepare, serve and clean up after meals.  Brother John and his cooks Sam and Domenic are the only full time staff (HAPPY BIRTHDAY SAM). We met a number of their volunteers including a gentleman who drives in and around the city collecting donations from hotels, schools and any organization that may have something available for them.  This particular driver volunteers his time 6 days a week and has been doing so for years.

Once clients have had their meal, dessert and coffee at the St. Francis Table, they are

St. Clare Centre - St. Francis Table

encouraged to move next door to the St. Clare Centre where they can linger and enjoy another coffee.  This frees up space at the tables for more clients to be served their meals.  The St. Clare Centre also provides a private space for prayer and reflection.

If you were to visit St. Francis Table, you would see just how efficiently every dollar they receive is spent and you would see the faces of the people that are directly impacted by those dollars.

HELP – Unfortunately Brother John ‘s contact is no longer able to provide them their Thanksgiving Turkeys….anyone reading this with contacts or connections please, please contact Brother John directly (contact info on link).

The River Restaurant is an All-Aboard Youth Venture.  The restaurant providesopportunities for homeless and at risk youth 18-24, to earn a livable wage and learn a variety of skills that help get and keep them off the street and make them more likely to succeed in the job market in future.  These trainees earn $12/hour (plus tips) and work 30 hours a week.

River Restaurant

James, Chef/ Manager and Facilitator of this program certainly has a tough job.  Daily he’s balancing discipline with gratitude…it’s not easy getting young people to want to work in the best of circumstances.

Unlike many other training opportunities youth get to stay in the Youth Venture program for a period of a year.  Although 3 months is more common for these types of mentoring programs, a year is proving to turn out more committed, more experienced therefore for more likely to succeed youth.

Chef James has worked in a variety of kitchens for some very successful restaurants and says nothing has ever given him the satisfaction that he gets from working with these kids and seeing them succeed.

Outside wall at Romero House

At Romero House – Toronto Refugee Community and Services – we met with Sarah, doing an internship at the Centre.  The internship is a voluntary role and requires a commitment of a year.  It involves living close to, sharing meals with and working to support refugee families (typically being assigned one or two families at a time).  The interns receive room and board and a small stipend.

Romero House provides housing, settlement and advocacy services for refugee claimants. Sarah invited a past client of Romero House to meet with us and share her experience as a refugee and how Romero House has helped her.  She arrived in Canada 3 years ago with 2 teenage children and a toddler…she left behind a country that was seeking to harm her and her family to come to one where she could be safe.  She knew no one here and upon arrival at our airport, was directed to Romero House…there, with the assistance of an assigned intern,  she and  her children were set up with housing, her kids were enrolled in school and she began the process and paperwork completion required for refugee claimants.

What I really liked about Romero House was the idea that all the families live in

Romero House Garden

close proximity to one another.  They, along with the Romero House interns develop and maintain a true sense of community.  We took a short walk from the Romero House Centre to a lovely vegetable garden at one of the Romero homes.  The garden is yet another way of encouraging community and working together…all clients have access to the garden and are encouraged to plant and pick from it.



Right HEAR, right now.

Are you listening to me?  Are you really listening to me?

Turns out I may not have been listening so well to you.

I’m going to change that.

First off, I intend to start looking away from my blackberry long enough to listen with my eyes as well as my ears. A persons facial expressions, their stance, are a dead giveaway for how someone is feeling before they even start talking.

Secondly, if I’m going to ask my kids about their day at school or work, I should avoid anticipating their usual  “okay” and leave myself open to receiving anything new that might escape their lips.   Too often I let my mind wander because I think I know what they are going to say, which leaves me at a loss and unprepared in case they do decide to expand on their response.

At the office where I’m constantly wanting to make the most of my time, I’m going to make a deliberate attempt to slow it down.  Slow it down and be available to my team.  Be present and ready to hear them out.  I like to think I’m really good at seeking feedback…I just don’t know how great I am at hearing it.

I’ll have to work at letting people finish speaking before I jump in (a challenge for me sometimes both personally and professionally.  It’s not done with bad intentions, just in an effort to move things along faster).  Sometimes I don’t listen completely because I am already onto thinking about what I am going to say.

What does all this have to do with my visits to charities?


A common thread amongst the organizations I visited yesterday is that each and every one expressed the importance of listening to their clients, listening for the needs of the communities and the people they exist to serve.  If we’re not prepared to listen we may as well throw in the towel, close up shop, move over and let someone who is going to listen take over.

I didn’t let the cloudy, rainy, grey day or the sleep deprivation I’ve felt since spending Monday and Tuesday in NYC, nor the cough that’s been keeping me company for the past 2 weeks get in the way of another fabulous Thursday.  After all, Thursday’s are my designated Site Visit day and they are fast becoming my favorite day of the week.

Thanks to each and every one we met with for being so generous with their time and for opening up their organizations to us.


Some highlights.  For more, check out the terrific websites;

Arts For Children and Youth (AFCY) is a creative art focused program thatcollaborates with high priority communities and empowers marginalized children and youth by engaging them in hands-on, community and school based arts and education programs.

Through community and school based arts engagement, children and youth can self-express, develop skills, learn new ways of seeing and doing, and establish new connections with society and with themselves. AFCY’s programs include skills development, hands-on arts-based learning, mentorship, self-expression, collaboration, inclusiveness and social awareness.

One of the things that really impressed me about this organization is that their office overflowing with beautiful pieces of art designed by local artists (the youth engaged in AFCY’s programs) wasn’t overflowing with office staff.  Most of their workers are on the front lines…communicating and collaborating with communities…right where they should be.

Sharon, Julie, Karyn, Audrey

BOOST Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and violence through education and awareness.

Boost designs and delivers primary prevention programs for children in elementary schools across Ontario.  The programs: I’m A Great Kid! and I’m A Great Little Kid! are designed to develop pro-social skills in children that make them less vulnerable to abuse or violence.  These programs also works towards developing their self esteem.

Children who feel good about themselves are more likely to develop positive relationships and are less likely to be mistreated in their interactions with others.

It is important to children’s well-being that they know how to get help when they are feeling scared, threatened or have a problem or worry. Children who have developed good communication skills, and have learned about making good choices are more likely to be able to speak with an adult they trust about what is happening or how they are feeling.

The June Callwood Centre is a large, welcoming and very conveniently situated building where young mothers, or soon to be teen mothers have access to a  variety of  programs and support services for themselves and for their babies.

Housing is available on the premises with 16 apartments subsidized according to the tenants income.  At this Centre young moms can work towards their Ontario Secondary School Diploma while their child is being cared for in the nursery (which I got to enjoy for a wee bit) on the same premises.

There are so many offerings at this Centre I could go on forever.  I encourage you to visit the site which is a phenomenal resource for teen moms, soon to be teen moms, possibly pregnant teens and for parents of a pregnant or possibly pregnant teen.

*  A bit of a shout out to those of you wanting to support the centre.  The young mom clients of the centre could use new or gently used household items… quite often the girls are living in their own homes for the first time and don’t have access to the things we may take for granted.

The 519 is a community centre in downtown Toronto which has been providing community programming in its neighbourhood for 35 years.  Their innovative model is a partnership between the City of Toronto and the local community – the City owns the building and provides funding for core expenses while the community determines the programming and raises the funds to make it happen.

The Centre is a beautiful community space which feels like a boutique hotel with its leather furniture, slate floors and fine art over the fireplace.  The space is gorgeous and really welcoming, but what happens in the space is even more amazing.

 With dozens of programs and over 250 community groups using the building every year, The Centre creates opportunities for people to meet and build relationships with their neighbors – people they might not get to know otherwise.  From ballroom dancing to alcoholics anonymous, from free counseling to free yoga.

Eric Wood - Head Chef - Director of Food Services

If you’re in Toronto, make sure you visit their new restaurant opening this fall. Colleen and I had the opportunity to test some of the “fare” coming to this kitchen and I can’t tell you how anxiously I am awaiting it’s opening.

The 519 is a progressive model that should serve as a best practice for the sector!!

It’s obvious these organizations are listening actively.  No point developing programs if your clients don’t need them or aren’t going to use them.

My First Post

My first day of visits to charities in the Province…I’ve looked as forward to this day as my kids look forward to the last day of school before summer holidays.

Julie and Colleen - end of Day One -

Julie and Colleen - end of Day One -

I must first introduce you to Colleen.  My good friend, navigator, planner and scheduler of our visits over the next 8 months.  Colleen has been a longtime friend who started volunteering at our Foundation a number of years ago.  She proved herself so vital we asked her to take on a part time role.  Colleen is my “Thelma” or maybe my “Louise”, not sure which…it’s been a while since I’ve seen that flick.  In any case, she’s my Wing Man and I couldn’t be doing this without her!

What an amazing first day…you just can’t imagine the depth of the people you meet and the value of the work they do if you don’t meet them in the environment in which they thrive.   It takes a certain type of person to enjoy working in the social service sector – someone with the passion, desire and the will to create positive change.

Today I met many of those special “someone’s” in their caring environments.

I’d like to arrange to meet some of the clients of the organizations I visit next week.  Their perspective, personal stories and insights are so important to this learning journey that I’m on.

This is my first blog…I wasn’t sure what to write, how much to include or what you might find interesting.  I went into each charity with a pen and notebook in hand and I was diligent about writing down and capturing all that I could…I won’t do that again!  From now on I am living in the moment!   I was emotionally exhausted by the end of the day and can’t wait to do the same thing again next week!  As I sit here typing I hear Colleen on the phone booking us on a 3 day road trip North.  2 overnights, 11 charities and a lot of highway…I’ve never been so excited.

Following is a brief overview of the organizations Colleen and I visited.  Nothing I say or express can come close to actually being there in person…I highly recommend it.

Integra Team and JulieIntegra is a Children’s Mental Health Centre. They work with children and adolescents who experience social, emotional and behavioral problems related to their learning disabilities.

I would have never guessed that Learning Disabilities are currently the number one health problem in children and youth.

35% – 50% of kids within the Youth Justice System have Learning Disabilities (often undiagnosed).

The STOP - KitchenThe STOP…Building Hope, Community and change through the power of Food.

There is a lot happening at this organization.  I am incredibly interested in 2 of their succesful Social Enterprises

Their catering service, led by Chris Brown the former Executive Chef of Perigee in the Distillery District.


Their Farmers market – takes place every Sunday from 9-1 at 601 Christie

The profits from both of these go back into programs and foods for those requiring them.

Gatehouse Teddy BearsThe Gatehouse – Child Abuse Investigation and Support Service.

It’s hard to imagine a more welcoming environment for children and youth to be interviewed by police and children’s aid workers.  The Gatehouse provides a place of comfort for children to feel safe and to open up about abuse they have experienced.

Their conversations are recorded and very well documented, sparing the child the pain of having to tell their story over and over again.

Each child leaves the home with a teddy bear and quilt of their choosing…what a lovely, kind and personal touch.

Colleen cried.

Community BoardSheena’s Place is a support centre for people affected by eating disorders (also referred to as disordered eating).

I didn’t realize they were such a support and resource to families, friends and partners of those experiencing the disorder as well.

Great book recommendation for anyone wanting to learn more; Help For Eating Disorders – A Parents Guide to Symptoms, Causes and Treatment.  By Dr. Debra Katzman and Dr. Leora Pinhas