It is no secret that the single most effective way you keep youth off the street or out of gangs is early relational engagement. Julie MacLean, an extremely invested and caring community worker, created and leads Yonge Street Missions’ “Tree of Life” project. Here’s her commentary. – Rick Tobias
My family and I are blessed to have been part of the life of the Regent Park community for 22 years. Eleven years ago I became the Children’s Program Coordinator at the Christian Community Centre which really opened the door into the splendor and chaos of Regent Park.
When I started, The Centre provided a framework for the “Tree of Life” children’s programs; inclusive, fun and holistic learning environments incorporating homework clubs and summer camps. We have become a tight knit community of around 60 children and 30 “youth in training” who pour into the Centre to develop their talents, experiences and ideas. They bring the pre-existing values of Regent Park’s cultures with them; hospitality, respect, family, faith and self-expression.
My role has been to encourage our children and youth in their gifts and provide opportunity for growth and leadership. Longevity and the creation of safe space have been key to the healthy growth and development of our children and youth. SO strong are the community ties that our alumni still visit frequently and many have begun their own community development projects such as overseeing the new community garden, running fitness classes for people with diabetes, and working with other community based agencies.
One of our youth blossomed this fall when we started a project to help children and youth to choose a short term goals. His goal was to get a “six pack”. The boy who struggles in school wrote out a detailed five-part plan, enlisted six of his friends to approach the manager of a gym to see if they could use the treadmill, found a gym supervisor to run an afterhours training program and helped all the other children in homework club with their goals. He managed all this despite being bullied and threatened at school and battling family problems that have resulted in him being removed from his home.
This is not the end of the story. I believe that his resilience, strong bonds with friends and multilayered support and love from YSM will see him thorough this challenging time. And beyond that…..I believe God has his hand on this 11 year old.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”