The 160-year-old YMCA of Greater Toronto is announcing the biggest expansion in its history, including ambitious plans to raise $250-million in the next seven years to build 10 new community centres in economically hard-pressed neighbourhoods.
The move comes after the 14-member board of the YMCA came up with a mandate to fight childhood obesity, boost quality child care and improve youth education and employment in underserviced communities in the Greater Toronto Area.
"Young people have it pretty tough today," said YMCA vice-chair Tim Penner, adding that the first phase of the strategic plan – involving five centres – is already under way. "The statistic that really gets to me is that one in three young people feel they have a weak sense of community belonging, which is really quite staggering. It's a terrible shame that young people don't feel a sense of belonging in their own community, and that's precisely what the YMCA addresses. It offers positive role models for young people, and that is what they need most."
The first five centres will be at Kingston Road (in East Toronto), Vanauley Street (Queen Street West/downtown Toronto), Bridletowne Circle (North Scarborough), Cherry Street (West Don Lands) and Kipling Avenue (Etobicoke). These pockets were chosen, Mr. Penner said, because residents there do not have ready access to a YMCA facility. "We have over 400 locations, but we only have eight large health-fitness centres, and they're overflowing. The majority of the other YMCA centres are child-care facilities and some are storefront job counselling/placement operations. Large centres of community are what we're trying to build in the future."
Mr. Penner said he knows the $250-million fundraising campaign, called Strong Start, Great Future, is aggressive, but added he is confident the YMCA can reach its goal by 2020. "It's a bold plan. And, frankly, [the dollar figure] makes your palms sweat a little. But we think we can do it." He hopes to raise $80-million to $100-million through philanthropy and the remainder from government. "Government has so far been receptive," he said, adding that the Cherry Street facility is already under construction. "It's part of the athletes' village for the Pan Am Games, which is supported by Infrastructure Ontario. After the 2015 Pan Am Games, the building becomes a YMCA."
His organization is also looking for a helping hand from the municipal government.