After eight years in the making, the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre celebrated its official opening Thursday, Sept. 19.
R and B singer/song writer Jully Black and NBA player Anthony Bennett, who both grew up in the area, along with former Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar, were on hand to open the first new Boys and Girls Club building in the city in 30 years, which also serves as Toronto’s first stand-alone, youth programming and service-specific Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre.
“This is the long-awaited opening of the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre,” Chris Foster, executive director of St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club, told youth, supporters and community members at the opening at 308B Grandravine Dr.
The Grandravine Drive location is the newest addition to the network of communities St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club serves. St. Alban’s was founded in 1949 and serves more than 3,000 members a year across the Greater Toronto Area.
The centre will be open weekdays from 1 to 9 p.m. and staffed by qualified, trained leaders. The youth centre is made up of a dance studio, computer lab, kitchen, recording studio, lounge and weight equipment area and will provide programs in employment readiness, drug and gang prevention, social development, arts, sports, health, nutrition, and academic assistance. It’s expected the centre will serve more than 100 youth between the ages of 13 and 21 every week.
St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club, which has been running programs for children in the Jane Street and Finch Avenue community since 1999, operates the main Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club location at 300 Grandravine Dr. The club, housed in a small, three-room Toronto Community Housing (TCH) unit, operates at full capacity and families were being turned away.
TCH offered the use of additional space – an unused garage measuring 1,350 square feet nearby – that is now the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre. The original site is still being used, but will focus more on children’s programming.
Vanessa Dias, who has been attending the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club for six years, said she likes hanging out with her friends and taking advantage of programming, such as cooking classes.
“It’s fun going there,” said the 16 year old. “Now we don’t have to share the space with the little kids and we can do more stuff.”
Black, who attended city-run programs at Driftwood Community Centre and the now closed Yorkwoods Community Centre because there wasn’t a Boys and Girls Club when she was younger, said the new site is full of positive energy.
“I wish we had this as kids,” she said. “It’s nice to see the progression.”
Alomar, who was on hand representing youth centre supporter Jays Care Foundation, said he grew up in a small town in Puerto Rico and knows what it means to succeed against the odds.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, it matters what you want to become,” he said.
Bennett, who is the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming the first Canadian to be drafted No. 1 overall, attended the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club before moving to Brampton.
“The Boys and Girls Club was a huge part of my success,” he said. “Deep down you never forget where you came from. Seeing this expand, it’s really heartwarming.”
The official opening included a ribbon cutting and mural unveiling of Bennett.
The Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre was built with the support of the Carolyn Sifton Foundation, CIBC, Newman’s Own Foundation, Ontario Trillium Foundation, employees of RBC Capital Markets, Rogers Youth Fund, TD, Toronto Blue Jays through Jays Care Foundation, Toronto Community Housing, United Way of Toronto, Youth Challenge Fund and staff, board of directors and friends of St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club.
For information, visit www.stalbansclub.ca/janeandfinch/