Tropicana Community Services started in 1980 with a $500 grant, money its founders hoped would help Caribbean-Canadian youth around Birchmount and Finch avenues.
Decades later, the United Way-backed agency is a $10-million operation covering all of Scarborough with around 80 staff and 200 volunteers. This week, Tropicana announced it has been given federal funds to finish a new headquarters where it can represent its 30 programs under one roof.
“I won’t do the dance I did when I first heard about it,” Sharon Shelton, Tropicana’s executive director said Tuesday, Jan. 8, at its current offices in industrial units on Progress Avenue east of McCowan Road.
The new headquarters building is 1385 Huntingwood Dr. a 28,000-square-foot former sports apparel warehouse near McCowan Road.
Completing renovations there by the end of 2013 or perhaps next March will fulfill a long-sought goal for Tropicana, whose focus remains Scarborough’s black and Caribbean populations but is open to all, Shelton said.
It was 2005 “when we really started the push” for a building which could house “an aspect of every one of our programs,” she said.
The $613,000 announced this week from the federal Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund follows a $2-million provincial grant, including $1.36 million for the property’s purchase.
Grouped along a “main street” the Huntingwood headquarters will contain a gymnasium, computer labs, teaching kitchen, program rooms, offices and eventually one of Tropicana’s childcare centres.
“It will be very much a home, a community home where you can sit and chat,” said Shelton.
Tropicana serves 22,000 clients a year at six sites, including AYCE Employment Services on Consumers Road, the Scarborough Youth Resource Centre in the Scarborough Town Centre and the ProTech Media Centre at the public library branch near Kennedy Road and Eglinton Avenue.
Shelton said “one or two” locations may close after the headquarters opens.
Tropicana has not figured out what will happen to its involvement in the media centre but will meet with the community members there this month, she said.
Pickering-Scarborough East MP Corneliu Chisu called Tropicana “a fantastic service provider for the community” and “an important part of our community life” with programs for employment, counselling, and youth leadership, along with March Break and summer camps.
This week’s investment is part of the Conservative government’s plan to create jobs, growth and longterm prosperity by building stronger communities, said Chisu, an engineer who offered during Tuesday’s press event to mentor Tropicana clients who want to practice the profession in Canada.