Despite what you read in your newsfeed, there truly are plenty of good stories to share. I can prove it.
Over the past six months, we’ve been collecting and sharing stories of our Scarborough neighbours, and all they do to support their community. These are real-life stories—uplifting, inspiring and heartwarming—that deserve attention. I invite you to meet a few of our neighbours. Some you know, others you’ll know now.
Like retired social worker Barb Jamieson, who dedicated her career to being a strong advocate for vulnerable and abused women. Dan-Lee Athill, who took the 66 hours of community service required for high school graduation as a record to break and he sure did, completing an incredible 4,000 hours. Metro Morning’s Suresh Doss introduces culinary enthusiasts to the gastronomic treats available in the area; The Toronto Star calls him Scarborough’s unofficial food ambassador. Cyleta Gibson-Sealy started an after-school homework club in her basement, inspired by what she learned in United Way workshops. When Toronto Community Housing gave her space, she built the program, Beyond Academics, tutoring students in academic subjects and also focusing on problem-solving and relationship building; local moms say it’s their children’s ticket out of poverty. Allison Murray formed a community committee to sponsor and assist refugees from the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
And there is Manjura Rehman, who started FoodPantry at Morningside, so people don’t have to give up a meal to pay for utilities or health and medical expenses. The legendary Mike Myers—Canada’s Official Ambassador to the 2017 Invictus Games—who supports service members, their families and their caregivers. Bob Hoang and three of his 13 siblings who all escaped Viet Nam with their parents in 1979—they started i3 International in the family’s garage; the firm now employs a diverse workforce of 160 people in five countries. Maestro Fresh Wes Williams, the Godfather of Canadian Hip Hop, is also an acclaimed author, youth mentor and philanthropist. Lois James’ unrelenting efforts to educate the public and politicians on the importance of the environment led to the creation of Canada’s first urban national park. Shree Paradkar exposes racism, Islamophobia and misrepresentation of people of colour as The Toronto Star’s columnist dedicated to issues of discrimination and identity. Dr. Raffy Chouljian started Brush-a-mania, a dental health program that some 70,000 Canadian kids participate in. He’s literally climbed a mountain—Kilimanjaro—raising $500,000 to support international efforts to eradicate polio. Thora Espinet—one of the first black women to practice law in Ontario—conducts free weekly legal clinics at the Agincourt Community Centre. Catherine Hawthorne founded the Northern Lights Arts Program, sending art supplies to communities in need like the Kashechewan First Nation community near James Bay, and promoting health and healing through arts workshops in partnership with the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority.
If you’re giving ‘til it hurts, you’re not doing it right
There is a Chinese saying: If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone.
Other great thinkers agree. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, put it another way: “Making money is a happiness; making other people happy is a super-happiness.”
Our neighbours have found their passion and they share it with others. Each one impresses and humbles me. They work tirelessly and volunteer their time to make their communities a better place because they care so deeply about where they live, and they put a lot of love into it. They’ve found purpose, meaning and happiness—all the things we look for in life but can be so hard to find.
Maybe that’s why it’s the people who live here—in Toronto’s largest borough—that create Scarborough’s identity and make it such a vital place.
An academic community like ours has many positive impacts on its neighbourhood. Well-documented measures like providing stable employment, cultural life, and consumers for local businesses and services, demonstrate the value we bring to the area. Like any healthy relationship, it works both ways. I’m keenly aware that we rely on a vibrant neighbourhood to meet the needs of our faculty, staff and students. I can’t think of another community of neighbours that meets and exceeds those needs quite like ours.
Just as our campus contributes to the life of the eastern GTA, we are a growing, dynamic campus because we are part of a community where diversity breeds vitality, where bottom-up revitalization projects—like that of the historic Guild Inn, spearheaded by John P. Mason—make our neighbourhood a place where people are engaged, where we care about one another, where people want to be.
Each individual’s story is unique. Each area of our neighbourhood is, too. We’re all connected as Scarborough. People are coming together to show their support in ways we should celebrate. And we’re all part of a bigger, better whole that makes Toronto one of the world’s great cities.