Meet the people who make this St. John's community centre a hub for education, health, leisure and more

A St. John’s community centre has become a neighbourhood hub for education, health, recreation and more.

MacMorran Community Centre has been operating for 40 years

A person stands at a microphone in front of a wall with the words "MacMorran Community Centre" painted on it.
Jim Crockwell is the executive director of the MacMorran Community Centre in the east end of St. John's. (John Pike/CBC)

A St. John's community centre has become a neighbourhood hub for education, health, recreation and more — all at no charge. 

Executive director Jim Crockwell said the MacMorran Community Centre has always been known for its recreational and social programs, but that only scratches the surface of what happens there.

"We're really about building community, building capacity and assisting people on an individual basis to work with some of the issues that they have going on in their lives," Crockwell said.

The centre, located in the city's east end, has been serving community members for 40 years. Crockwell said the centre serves people at all stages of their lives too — from newborns to seniors. 

Justin Taylor, the centre's program director, said the number of new Canadian families living in the area has been increasing and the centre has been adapting its services to best serve them.

That adaptation included adding signage in languages other than English, and co-ordinating with other organizations like the Association for New Canadians.

"I've seen a lot of kids from [infancy] up to, you know, I've seen them go through the school system," he said. "Obviously, it's been awesome. Very rewarding."

From summer camp to university

Baraa Alkhalif moved to Newfoundland and Labrador from Lebanon 10 years ago, and at the time didn't speak English.

"I was … trying to communicate with everybody," she said.

A person wearing a white jacket and a brown hijab speaks into a microphone.
Baraa Alkhalif moved to Newfoundland and Labrador from Lebanon 10 years ago, and at the time didn’t speak English. Now she's attending nursing school at Memorial University. (John Pike/CBC)

She attended summer camp at the centre, and said the camp counsellors helped her feel at home.

"They made every single person feel special, which helped me … gain confidence," she said.

Now she attends nursing school at Memorial University and was the recipient of a scholarship from the MacMorran Community Centre.

Chantal Barron began volunteering with the centre as a camp counsellor in 2014, when she was in Grade 11. She was hired to run the centre's parent and toddler program in 2019 and is now the in-house social worker and employment facilitator.

"They just couldn't really get rid of me," Barron said.

A chest-up shot of a person in a beige sweater with long blonde hair speaking into a microphone.
Chantal Barron, who began volunteering at MacMorran in 2014, is the centre's in-house social worker. (John Pike/CBC)

Barron assists clients with employment and all stages of the job-hunting process. She also helps students like Alkhalif. 

"It's crazy right now because some of the children that I was … their camp counselor, I'm currently helping them apply to post secondary. I'm currently helping them like pick out their schedules for nursing," she said.

Health and food insecurity

People in the community can also see a nurse practitioner at the centre or get help navigating the MCP application process. Crockwell says the health services at the centre could serve as a model for some of the recommendations in the provincial Health Accord.

Food banks across Newfoundland and Labrador have reported a sharp rise in demand in recent months, and the food bank at MacMorran is no different.

"[The] food bank is very, very busy, very busy," said Juanita MacDonald, who's been volunteering there for decades.

She said their clients are mostly seniors, but there are some families.

"The cost of living is gone through the roof and people are just having a hard time," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Adam Walsh and CrossTalk