It is mid-July: a pall of gloom has enveloped the City of Toronto, in the wake of gun-related violence perpetrated by rival gangs of disaffected youths invading public spaces and causing death and mayhem.
Devastated families and communities, along with the police, government officials, educators and social agencies are all searching for answers as to why this is happening, and how to prevent further outbreaks.
Solutions and remedies are hard to come by. Meanwhile, by contrast, a very different kind of “happening” was taking place recently in a Thorncliffe Park school. The event might very well hold some clues, and even provide a model, to counteract the prevailing mood of fear and frustration that is gripping the city.
Moorelands Community Services (MCS), a social agency dedicated to working with children and youth living in less affluent parts of the city, was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding in 1912 by a Canon R.J.Moore (hence the name).
MCS has undergone several reincarnations over the past century. Starting out as a church-related entity, it has advanced progressively into a finely-tuned, evidence-based, values-motivated instrument of change in the lives of underprivileged young people. It has accomplished this transformation very largely as a result of its emphasis on leadership training, based on programs here in the city, as well as at its campsite on Lake Kawagama, a pristine wilderness location in the Algonquin highlands.
Each year, MCS-which is funded by individuals, corporations, foundations and church groups-provides programs for some 1,500 youngsters. During this particular afternoon of celebration of the ministry of MCS, the accumulated benefits of the past century were on display for all to see. A large cross-section of boys and girls, ages 8-16 years, were brought together. They represented the multicultural diversity of Toronto and all had been involved in programs and activities of MCS-in Toronto, and in some cases, at the Kawagama campsite.
In addition, a large cadre of trained youth leaders (many of them former campers) were on hand to conduct and participate with the kids in a variety of activities. Present, too, were a number of adult volunteers recruited from one of our corporate sponsors. The volunteers set up the physical arrangements and provided equipment and food as well as professional entertainment.
That some of the Muslim women would allow their teen-aged daughters to participate in mixed company was a tribute to the level of trust that has been built up over the years between MCS and these communities.
“My son has a lot of stories when he comes home from day camp about all the fun he has there,” says Connie Tizon of her child’s MCS experience. “He tells me all about the games, the exciting trips, the fun he’s had at swimming and the new friends he’s made. He brings his laughter home from camp, and sometimes at night, I can hear him laugh in his sleep. In the morning, he tells me that he was dreaming of camp…”
Another camper, a 13-year-old boy, says “Moorelands has helped me develop awareness towards issues that our society is facing.”
What is the answer to gun-toting youthful violence? Get children at a young enough age to build meaningful relationships with them and their families. Give them the right kind of opportunity to grow and develop as self-respecting individuals, socially adjusted with others different from themselves, and able to function in team relationships. Set them the right kinds of example to follow and they will adopt it for themselves, becoming role models for others, making for responsible and productive future citizens of whom to be proud. Waiting until they are already part of the youth culture is leaving it too late to make a difference.
MCS is just one of many such life-transforming agencies working to off-set the trend towards delinquency and crime: a valued resource and asset to our city and society as a whole.
Canon Peter Gratton is a retired priest in the diocese of Toronto and a long-time supporter of Moorelands Community Services.