The Anglican Foundation of Canada (AFC) has awarded $6,000 to a homework club for kids in downtown Toronto as part of its fall 2020 grant cycle.
St. Jamestown Homework Club is a collaboration between three Toronto churches: Rosedale Presbyterian Church, St. Peter and St. Simon-the-Apostle Anglican Church and St. Andrew’s United Church. It has been running out of St. Peter and St. Simon on Bloor St. East for the past 11 years.
The club is staffed by volunteers who pick up the students from nearby Rose Avenue Public School and Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic school. The students play games—outside, if the weather is nice—then spend time doing homework with the help of the volunteers.
“We have four laptop computers and a printer, connected to the internet, so the kids can do any research…. We have some educational software programs which the kids can use on the computers … and sometimes for the younger ones who are maybe six years old or so, one of the volunteers will just read a book to them,” says the Rev. Wesley Denyer, minister of Rosedale Presbyterian and chair of the homework club’s steering committee.
The club is a valuable service rooted in the needs of its particular community, Denyer says. “A lot of these children are the children of immigrant and refugee families,” he says, noting that many of the parents do not speak English as a first language. The neighbourhood is also fairly low-income and many residents live with large extended families in small apartments. “[There’s] not a lot of dedicated space for kids doing homework…. Helping the kids with things like reading, or even reading to them in English, is not something that would normally be happening in these families … [and] they’re often busy and their homes are kind of noisy and filled with people. So this is an opportunity for them to get that kind of support.”
The club also provides a safe, supervised place for children whose parents work and can’t arrange for pickup at 3:30 when school lets out. The club runs until 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
Along with organizing and administering the program, Denyer emcees the Christmas and end-of-year parties each year and works to raise funds to keep the program running.
The homework club costs $25,000 annually, and the three churches involved are able to fund $6,000 each. The remainder of the cost is raised from donors and funding sources like the Anglican Foundation, which has provided $19,000 of funding since 2014.
Canon Judy Rois, executive director of the Anglican Foundation, has volunteered at the club and visits at Christmas “with a little Christmas bag for each child,” she says. Former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada Archbishop Fred Hiltz also visited the homework club during his time as primate. Even though the kids “didn’t really know what the ‘primate of the Anglican church’ was,” Denyer says, they “thought that was pretty neat. That was pretty special.”
The grant for the club comes from AFC’s Kids Helping Kids Fund, which was created to fund projects that improve the lives of children across Canada.
“Almost a decade ago, with the establishment of the Kids Helping Kids Fund, AFC brought children and young people into the spotlight, recognizing that when they are given opportunities, they not only survive, but thrive,” says Rois.
“No one wants children to navigate how to survive, and yet we know it happens every day. Some children do not have families to rely upon after school, and so the homework club is there to help them with their school work in a safe, supportive environment.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the homework club has not been operating for most of 2020. Because the club serves kids from different schools and grades, school administrators did not want to risk mixing cohorts.
However, Denyer says, the club’s dedicated volunteers were determined to keep connecting with the kids. For now, volunteers are meeting one-on-one with students over Zoom, reading together and helping out with schoolwork.
“We can’t do this with 25 kids, the same way as before, but at least we can do something,” says Denyer.
“The volunteers we have are quite dedicated to this whole process and are determined that we get back to doing this, so I’m quite confident that we will indeed get back to having the homework club again … serving this community.”
Since the club has been running for eleven years, Denyer says, there are kids who were in the homework club at its beginning that are now returning as volunteers. “It’s neat that they’ve graduated but come back to assist with the work…. And I think, too, [of] the dedication of the churches to continue on with this—a lot of churches are struggling financially, more so over the past few years, and yet they continue to see this as a priority.”
The AFC provides grants to individuals, parishes and church organizations to fund ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada, with two grant cycles per year. Its fall 2020 grants, released in November, totaled $210,000 for more than 45 applicants and funded building projects, ministries, and education bursaries across the country.