Faced with imminent closure, Cabbagetown Youth Centre appeals for funding
‘We have taken the burden off city services. Now we need the city to help us,’ executive director says
There were renewed calls on Friday to save a downtown recreation centre offering after-school and summer programs for hundreds of young people in high-priority areas.
After months of pleas for more funding, staff say the Cabbagetown Youth Centre (CYC) is at risk of imminent closure unless it can secure more funds.
"I'm here pleading to all levels of government, to help an organization that has been changing the lives of hundreds and thousands of children and youth for almost five decades," Lucy Troisi, the centre's executive director, said at a news conference.
"Where would 1,200 children go to camp this year? We're not competing with other organizations in the neighbourhood — access to recreation is a challenge in our communities and we have taken the burden off City of Toronto services. Now we need the city to help us."
The youth centre was founded in 1972 as a boxing club in a vacant downtown east warehouse by Cabbagetown-area police officer Peter Wylie, who later saw the space as a way to provide direction to at-risk youth. He quit his police job in 1985 to help save the club from financial ruin.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, along with almost a dozen community organizations, joined Troisi in appealing for help to save the centre.
"As the city is a minor funder in the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, we call upon the federal and provincial governments to step up and support this important facility in our community," Wong-Tam said.
"We are calling upon city council to inject emergency funding to save the Cabbagetown Youth Centre so that they can continue their vital services."
The two-storey centre contains a boxing ring and facilities, gym, kitchen and playroom. Staff also make use of local schools across the city for the summer camps.
The co-ordinator for the centre's after-school program, Carole Brault, said there are many reasons why the CYC and the programs offered there are important.
"It gives children who are in challenging circumstances an opportunity to see what can be," Brault told CBC Toronto.
"It gives them the time to be in a positive environment. We have staff that serve as role models and model behaviour that's important in life and also give them options to activities that they might not have otherwise."
Retired boxer John Kalbhenn says the centre has been like a home to him since he was a teenager.
"I'm worried because my life's in here — from the time I was 19 years old until now," he told CBC Toronto.
"I went through my whole amateur professional career, I met a lot of great people here. It's my home. It's literally my home away from home. I spend more time here than anywhere else."
With files from Desmond Brown and Lauren Pelley