Longtime Regent Park resident Deany Peters’ contributions to her community are well-known by her neighbours. A recent award shows that others value her work, as well.
Peters was awarded the St. Christopher House Sir James Woods Award for Community Development for more than 20 years of volunteer service at the Regent Park Community Health Centre and other local organizations.
She moved to Regent Park from Parkdale more than 25 years ago as a single mother of three and instantly set about improving both her life and the neighbourhood she calls home.
“The Regent Park Residents Association was looking for community leaders and I signed up,” she said. “I was able to get a two-year scholarship to George Brown College where I studied to become a community worker, but I went back to school as a mature student. I was missing high school credits because I was married (young), had my first baby at 16 and all three of my kids by 18.”
That experience has served her well. She parlayed an early relationship with the Regent Park Community Health Centre into a volunteer opportunity with the organization – and eventually a career.
“This was the first organization I entered into this community as a young mom,” she said from her office at the Health Centre. “The first thing you need when you’re a young mom with three babies is a doctor.”
She also helped found the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre, which gives young people in the community a chance to express themselves through film, video, music and other media arts. While she was one of the ones who created the organization, it has always been youth-led.
She is a staunch advocate of getting young people involved in their community.
“We have to ensure that young people have a say in the services that are provided to them,” she said. “They need to be included in the conversation and decision-making process about their own lives.”
Peters also helped facilitate the creation of the Regent Park Resident Engagement Taskforce, planning town hall meetings to ensure the ongoing Regent Park Revitalization meets the needs of residents.
“I believe changes like this should happen with people, not to people,” she said.
Always outspoken, Peters said while the revitalization has seen many new and valuable additions to the community, the human element was overlooked at times.
“There was a feeling of loss and sadness over our relocated friends and relatives that I think was ignored,” she said. “We have children who have spent their entire childhoods in the process of being relocated, with people leaving and people coming back.”
Peters hopes to continue to build bridges between Regent Park and the surrounding area. For too long, she said, the community has been an island unto itself, cut off from the rest of Toronto.
“You look at something like the Pan Am Games, where they’re building just up the street from us,” she said. “A lot of people here don’t even know about it – it’s like, ‘oh my gosh, they’re building a city at the end of my street.’ I want to find out what the opportunities are to collaborate, what are the partnerships and who are my new neighbours?”
Peters is one of many people working tirelessly to make Regent Park a better place to live, and says the greatest obstacle to overcome is the social stigma that remains attached to the neighbourhood.
“There’s a misperception that we’re lazy welfare bums and cheats and liars,” she said. “This is a great area with great people. Everyone just needs to see that.”