By JIYOON ELLIE KIM
A group of churches, community agencies and businesses in the Pape-Danforth area are working together to make East York a safer community.
The East York Strategy offers a positive space for local youth with support from police, schools, businesses and politicians.
After five years of persistent effort, the headquarters at Bethany Baptist Church on Pape Avenue at Cosburn now hosts about 200 youth in its sports and social programs on weekday evenings.
The program took its cue from the original Etobicoke Strategy. Bethany’s pastor, Jim Parker, said the disconnection between some youth and the rest of the community drove him to take the initiative.
It mainly revolves around multiple leagues and drop-in sports sessions supported by the dozen or so sponsoring churches, and about 20 other community leaders, organizations and businesses. But the program has also invited people like city councillor Mary Fragedakis and police officers from 54 Division to speak to the youth.
Parker explained how such small events make change.
“When the police officers come in to speak, kids in grades 3-5 get so excited that they raise their hands to their sockets,” he said.
Some of the teens in middle and high school are skeptical at first, the pastor said, but even they gradually open up. They’re initially suspicious of the police, for instance, but then a sense of personal acquaintance helps them see the officers more fairly and think twice before engaging in reckless action.
And the reverse is true too, Parker said; the program has also helped the officers better understand the teens without preconceived notions. Parker said the community as a whole has a responsibility to guide local youth to evaluate different options in front of them.
“Kids don’t grow up dreaming to be bad. They all want to be good,” he said. “If they are exposed to positive models who make constructive choices, many of them tend to make the best decision.”
This article had been published on the East York Observer April 20 edition.