by Chris Foster,
A question I get asked all the time is – How and why did St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club get involved with the Jane and Finch Club?
Back when I came to St. Alban’s as a new Executive Director, St. Alban’s was in trouble – poor programs (other than aquatics), under performing staff, weak practices and the Club was in financial jeopardy. In fact, it was looking like the Club could be six months to a year from closing down. Over the next two years, with hard work, great new staff (Franca, Garvin, Alex, Sid, and Karen to name just a few), and leadership from the Board of Directors, we got the Club on track.
I always wondered – what role did the Boys and Girls Club of Canada play with the Clubs – How can a Club with a great history be so close to closing? So, at the next meeting with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, I asked – “What do you guys do?” Apparently, that means you get volunteered (remember – new Executive Director here) to join a newly formed Club Development Committee.
Our first task was to review provisional Clubs – new Clubs hoping to become full member Clubs. (To this day I still don’t really understand why the provisional Clubs paid less fees but had full membership benefits – it seemed better to stay provisional!) I was assigned to visit the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club.
Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club opened in 1994, when the Boys and Girls Clubs of Ontario (I know! Confusing, right?!) started five new provisional Clubs in Ontario. Unfortunately, by 1998, only the Jane and Finch Club remained. The reason it remained was Gail Moore, whose daughter had joined the Club the first day it opened and Gail was asked if she would like to volunteer. Gail agreed, and two years later, when the only staff left because of the lack of funding, Gail took on leadership of the Club.
From 3-6:00pm, the Club operated out of a Toronto Community Housing building (which we are currently renovating) which was once a variety store. From 6:30 to 9:30pm, the Club ran a youth gym program in an old, round, Salvation Army building (then managed by the City of North York). 40 plus kids every day after school and 30 youth in the evening were attending the programs.
Two of my key memories from my early visits to the Club that shaped the outcome:
As we walked between the two sites we passed the local public school at recess – it felt like every child came running to Gail; “Hi Gail, what are doing tonight?” “Can we do Tai Bo?” “Can you help with my homework?” and so on. How incredibly impactful.
The other memory was finding the round building chained shut. Two caretakers opened the doors and Gail showed me their space and explained there was an occasional group that used the gym in the morning and the Boys and Girls Club ran programs in the evening. Gail asked me about the request the City had asked of her team to participate in drug prevention training as the youth waiting for the Boys and Girls program (outside chained shut doors to community space – just saying) were sniffing glue. This striking image became my driving force to get the chains off the doors!
Did I mention that the Club was being managed within a collective of other local agencies and the Club’s annual operating budget was $4,000? Thirty hours of programming per week in one of the most at risk communities in Toronto run almost exclusively by volunteers! My current staff probably would have urged me to say no at these times, but they weren’t here then and I knew it was the right thing to do. I recommended to the Club Development Committee that the Jane and Finch Club should merge with one of the existing Clubs in Toronto. To make a long story shorter, it ended up being us! With great support from our Board of Directors (as we just got our financial house in order), we officially merged April 1st 1999, the day after the riot at the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club (but that’s another story).
Today, Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Clubs serve 250 child and youth members in 7 locations with funding and in kind support from the United Way, City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing and the Ministry of Sports Tourism and Culture, and now operates on an annual budget of over $400,000.
St. Alban’s also raised $1.3 million to build a Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre which opened in 2013. This June, we will complete a long overdue renovation of the original site (a critter and bug invested variety store) into an open concept child friendly Club. The original Club was where Anthony Bennett attended after school programs and played basketball before he became Canada’s first ever #1 pick in the NBA draft.
The merger and journey since has had many ups and downs but reflecting back, I am proud of what our Board and staff team were able to accomplish by lending a hand to a struggling Club whose future was in jeopardy. Combining our Clubs has ensured a strong future for both the St. Alban’s and Jane and Finch Clubs and communities.