Our Stories

Vanessa M: Using My Gifts

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 | Posted in Our Stories | 1 Comment »

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved the arts—especially acting.  I loved taking on the role of a character and getting lost in being someone else.  I was fortunate enough to attend Earl Haig Secondary and be in the Claude Watson Performing Arts Program as a drama major.  It was there I realized my deep love to pursue this art form as a career.  In my grade 11 year, I decided to get an acting agent and started to audition professionally.  Throughout the remainder of high school and my post-secondary years, I auditioned and performed professionally in various film and television roles.  The plan was taking flight.  So I started to make plans to move to LA after my college graduation.

IMG_8759 But in my last year of college, the beginnings of my acting career started to nose dive.  The agency I was with started to go under, auditions were diminishing, I was losing confidence in the audition room and sadly I wasn’t enjoying acting anymore. But I didn’t want to let go of something I had done for so long and worked so hard for.  I started to get frustrated with God because I thought, “Why he would give me this talent and suddenly close all the windows of opportunity to use it?”.  But slowly during that frustrating time, I began to realize I didn’t need to let go of my talents. I needed to surrender them.  I needed to invite God on the journey and let Him take over.   Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years says it so well, “I admitted something other than me was showing a better way. And when I did this, I realized the Voice, the Writer who was not me, was tryingto make a better story, a more meaningful series of experiences, I could live through. At first, even though I felt God writing something different, I’d play the scene the way I wanted to.  This never worked.  It would always have been easier to obey the Writer, the one who knows the story better”.

 God does write better stories.  For the past three years, He has been revealing His plans for my life in a way I would have never imagined.  But when I look back at my story, it makes sense that He has called me to lead Sketch & Believe.  Thirteen years ago, my story was just like the story of the girls in my program.  I didn’t know how much I was loved by Jesus.  I didn’t know He had a great plan for me.  It is humbling and touching to know that now God is using me to help them see His love and presence.  He is rewriting my story to involve His heart for the broken.

As I lead the Sketch & Believe ministry, I see how God is using all my passions such as missions, youth, the arts and my faith.   I am currently acting in a play called the Ultimate Sacrifice with a theater group called Exousia Media.   This play tackles many social issues that often plague communities like Jane-Finch.  However it delivers a message that the gospel needs to and can reach even the toughest communities.   My hope this Spring is to have a benefit performance night  in which the proceeds will go to the Sketch & Believe program and Hoop to Hope (another YU program in the Jane- Finch community but for boys).  Stay tuned to learn more soon! // Vanessa M

Scott M: No safe neighbourhood?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 | Posted in Our Stories | No Comments »

I had to read it twice, just to make sure I had read it right…

“Mr. Jones offered a blunt assessment when he was asked if he could guarantee TCHC properties are safe.
‘No, there’s no neighbourhood that’s safe,” he said. “Why would I say something stupid like that?’”1

My heart sank. Have the leaders of vital institutions in our city lost all hope? Every day here at YU, we work towards safe, nurturing neighbourhoods in the communities we serve. Mr. Jones continued:

“Don’t just keep blaming TCHC to fix everything. We’re not the fixers,” he said. “Social housing is what we’re supposed to provide. Now we’ve got to provide social activities for our youth.”1

Of course, the Broken Window theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” suggests the vital importance our environment plays in changing our communities. Broken Windows proposed “that untended disorder and minor offences gave rise to serious crime and urban decay.”Jesus put it another way:

“If you’re faithful in small-scale matters, you’ll be faithful with far bigger responsibilities. If you’re crooked in small responsibilities, you’ll be no different in bigger things.”   (Luke 16:10, The Voice)

That’s why Stewart, our Community Development Coordinator, worked diligently with our Shoreham Court Animators to advocate on behalf of community residents in this Jane-Finch neighbourhood to have downtrodden, pot-hole-infested paths repaved and long-darkened lights set alight once again. Faithfulness in the small things, we believe, will lead to far bigger transformation in the long-run.

But, in one sense, Mr. Jones is right. It’s not just about improving social housing. But it’s also not just about more social activities for our young people. What we really need are committed men and women who are willing to walk the long road with our youth – to enter into messiness, to choose compassion over judgment, and take a risk by mentoring a young person.

As a YU North York Team, we have committed ourselves to make our programs a welcoming place for caring adults who want to share their journey of faith and success in life with a young person. Please, join us! Let’s create safe neighbourhoods.

1 - http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-public-housing-safety-under-scrutiny-after-teens-death/article8878227/
2 – http://www.city-journal.org/2009/nytom_ny-crime-decline.html

Stewart V: Taking Flight

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 | Tags:
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SURVIVAL…. a mentality that tends to drive much of our behaviour but leaves us stressed, under pressure and much less productive than we could be.  Five resident leaders and myself attended a training with Eagle’s Flight in Guelph yesterday.  Tonnes of fun with great learning.  We left with a desire to be more productive in our development efforts and not just focus on survival.  To do that we want to focus on three prime resources, knowledge, team and time.  Our goal?  Invest the necessary time to gain the knowledge and develop the team in order to accomplish our desired goals for transformation.  Focusing this way will avoid us being food for the vultures in the desert, as we were in our training with Eagle’s Flight!
Youth Unlimited Community Development Animators

Scott Moore: A satisfying day at the ‘office’

Friday, March 23rd, 2012 | Tags:
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There are some days when you come home with a deep sense of satisfaction. Knowing today was a job well done.

Working with youth and desiring to see them reach their full life potential isn’t like many jobs. You can’t say, “I painted that.” Or, “I built that.” Or, “I made this much in sales today.”

But boy, looking at the beaming faces of nine young people riding the BMX bikes they built through our Revolution(s) Earn-A-Bike initiative at Joyride150 today was simply amazing.

Pride. Confidence. Self-esteem. Fun. New skills. Community.

A job well done. Well done, Jesse – leader of Revolution(s). Well done, Clem – our chief bike mechanic. Well done, Amos – our crucial sidekick volunteer. And most importantly, well done Rev(s) youth – you did it!

Enjoy the ride.


Karen R: The Best Kind of Investment

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 | Posted in Our Stories | No Comments »
Sanya has been attending the Sketch & Believe program for two years. One of the other girls brought her initially and she quickly found her place within the group. Through various activities and skits we did in our devotion times, we discovered that Sanya has quite the gift for acting. She is especially quick at thinking on her feet and improvising. She is also very funny. She usually has us bent over with laughter when we do any kind of activity involving drama.
This past year, she graduated from high school and was accepted into a BA program at York University. Her desire is to be a middle school teacher and I think that her comedic timing and ability to think quickly on her feet will serve her well in that profession! She has enjoyed the Sketch & Believe program so much that though she is now too old to attend the program, she wants to continue her involvement. She has begun volunteering with our middle school Sketch & Believe program. She will also be using this volunteer opportunity as one of her school placement requirements for a course she is taking after Christmas.
I generally quite enjoy taking on placement students, but I have to say that taking on Sanya is an even greater joy! What a privilege to see one of the young women from the program graduate, attend university and want to give back to the program. And even better, have the program continue to help her develop skills in a different capacity! She is also a huge inspiration for the younger girls. It is such an amazing thing for the younger girls to see Sanya succeed and continue her education. This truly is an example of the best kind of investment we could make.
My hope is that we will see many more young women seek similar journeys of making their dreams become realities. This may take different forms than Sanya’s journey, but I continue to pray that through the Sketch & Believe program, young women will build their confidence as they discover their creative voice and seek to impact the community of Jane Finch in positive ways.  // Karen R

Scott M: A Visitor’s View

Sunday, February 5th, 2012 | Posted in Our Stories | No Comments »

We were honoured to have Debra, one of our co-workers in Youth Unlimited Toronto, visit our annual “Rite of Passage” ceremony for the young men we work with. Here’s her story from the night:

I’m attending a “Rite of Passage” ceremony for six 18 year-old men in a notorious Toronto neighbourhood. Last October a young man was gunned down just one block away from where this ceremony is being held. Tonight, in the presence of mentors and role models, these young men share their dreams and plans for education and careers. Benjamin, one of our staff, has worked with these guys for close to ten years. A refugee from Ghana, he saw a desperate need in this community and started befriending and counseling youth.

Together with Benjamin, Paul, volunteers and community partners, these guys have cried, laughed, played basketball and lived a lot of life together. A couple of summers ago they ran a day camp for First Nations children in northern Ontario. Tonight they celebrate!

I feel honoured to be a guest, as traditionally only men attend this ceremony. Sitting among their mothers, aunts and grandmothers, I am challenged to be more than an observer, but to support, pray for and encourage these men on their life journeys. I consider and ask Benjamin and Paul, “What can I do to support and encourage this good work?”

Scott M: A Walking Tour of Inspiration

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 | Posted in Our Stories | No Comments »

As an Area Director overseeing multiple ministry sites, one can sometimes feel disconnected from the on-the-ground day-to-day work of our frontlines staff. Yesterday morning, as part of our work with World Vision in community development (CD), our CD team (Stewart and Karen) were able to lead us on a site visit in the Shoreham community, one of two neighbourhoods where our CD work focuses. Stewart and Karen have mobilized a group of residents, now called the “Shoreham Court Animators”, to advocate for change in the community and spur their neighbours on to foster peace and wellbeing in Shoreham. Two of the Animators joined us for the visit and led us on a walking tour. Their passion, courage, and perseverance were, and are, inspiring.

But it was the kind words of affirmation just as we were leaving that truly touched my heart. We were talking with one of the animators who has lived in the Shoreham community for 30 years and loves her community desperately. She spoke softly, and with tears welling up in her eyes, expressed to us that none of the positive changes that were occurring in her life and in her community could have been possible without the help of Youth Unlimited, and specifically Stewart and Karen. To the outside eye, these changes may be subtle, even virtually unseen, but to this animator, it meant the world. It meant the world that two people and a organization like YU were willing to walk alongside her, all for the sake of making her home a safer, healthier and more whole place. A place that reflects the justice, rest and wellbeing of God’s Kingdom. For me, it was a moment of reconnection and of knowing that we’re making a difference.

// Scott M

Scott M: Youth Voices

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 | Tags: ,
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YU North York is a proud partner of the Assets Coming Together for Youth project coordinated by York University. An essential part of the project is engaging youth rather than simply studying. We connect deeply with this as YU – always seeing young people as a source of hope and change in their communities.

Check out the 100 words 100 Jane-Finch youth used to describe their community, courtesy of the ACT Project:

Ben O: Grace

Friday, August 12th, 2011 | Tags:
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This is a story about a girl named Grace from the Seeds of Hope Summer Day Camp. It’s a simple story about how a few simple words spoken by another girl brought joy into Grace’s life:

For some reason no one gets along with Grace. She has struggled to make friends at the camp and most of the girls gang up on her. When coming home from the trip to Ontario Place, I had difficulty getting other campers to even sit on the same seat with her. Last week, the campers were randomly placed in six groups to act a skit about the ‘fruits of the spirit’. Grace happened to be in my group and we had to act out a short play about Joy. When the other campers in the group saw that they had to work with Grace, they were reluctant to join my group. Katie told me bluntly that she didn’t get along with Grace, so she wanted to join another group . Then one girl, Sarah, said, “I don’t get along with her but I am working with her and I want to make friends with her.” A few simple words that were like music to Grace’s ears. Sarah’s words changed the stance of the other campers and they all joined the team to act the play together.

It is in these small victories that we celebrate. // Benjamin Osei

Scott M: Three-in-One

Thursday, June 9th, 2011 | Tags:
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Three-in-One. In some circumstances it might sound like a sweet deal, but when it comes to our city, Toronto, it speaks of polarization, division and exclusion. A recent articlesummarizes done by the University of Toronto:

As researchers at the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre have documented, over the last 30 years Toronto has become segregated by income into three distinct cities. City No. 1 consists of the richer and whiter downtown core and well-heeled neighbourhoods close to the subway lines. City No. 3 — or the Third City — includes Toronto’s low-income neighbourhoods, with high concentrations of racialized poverty. Generally found in the in the northeastern and northwestern parts of Toronto, incomes in these neighbourhoods have declined 20 per cent or more since 1970. City No. 2 consists of middle-income neighbourhoods that fall in between and are shrinking in size as Toronto becomes a more socio-economically polarized metropolis.

Here at YU North York, we often find ourselves in the ‘Third City’. We stand firm in our belief that young people in any city are filled with potential and have hope for a bright present and future. Every person, no matter where in the ‘three-in-one’ they live contains within them the make-up of the Divine.

But our heart is also to bring reconciliation and unity between ‘the cities’. To show that we are all in this together and we all need each other to create communities of safety, peace and wholeness. Where there is exclusion, we hope to bring unity. Where there is isolation, we hope to bring community. Where there is scarcity, we hope to reveal abundance.

Join us on the journey!