East York Mirror
Student performers from across Toronto will descend upon 10 of the TTC's busiest subway stations this month to busk for a brighter future for their homeless peers in Etobicoke - one token at a time.
The Tokens4Change event - a joint project between Project Humanity, a local non-profit organization raising awareness through the arts, and Youth Without Shelter (YWS), a north Etobicoke youth shelter - will see high school students from Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA), Parkdale CI, Woburn CI, Blyth Academy, St. Clement's School, Earl Haig SS, Royal St. George's College, Bayview Glen School, Havergal College Mentor College, and Eastern Commerce CI, as well as college students from Humber take to the rails on Friday, Feb. 11 to collect a targeted 5,000 tokens for YWS' homeless youth.
"We distribute more than 5,000 tokens a year to youth here to help them go to the doctor's appointments, to go to school, to look for jobs, and to seek out their own housing," said Judy Leroux, YWS's development manager. "Transit is just another barrier to these youth in terms of reaching their goals, so that's what Tokens4Change is about - removing one more barrier."
So far, more than 375 volunteers have signed up to perform and collect tokens from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at one of 10 select stations - Finch, Sheppard, Eglinton, Yonge, Dundas, King, St. Andrews, St. George, Kipling, Islington, or Kennedy.
Project Humanity's role in the project is one of awareness, said lead organizer Scott Parish, the member of the YWS board who conceived the idea for Tokens4Change.
"Project Humanity is this neat group that's been coming in to YWS for a few years and running theatre workshops with the youth, helping them build communication skills and confidence," he said. "Now, for the last few weeks, Project Humanity has been going into three Toronto high schools (ESA, Earl Haig and Havergal) and running workshops on youth poverty and starting that dialogue. The result of these workshops will be the performances that will go on during the Tokens4Change event."
One of the groups Project Humanity has been working with is the Grade 10 Drama class at ESA. Teacher Natasha Brault said the workshops have opened her students eyes.
"There's sometimes a stigma attached to youth homelessness, and this experience helped them dismiss that. Hearing real stories of homeless youth allowed them to feel a connection - that sense of 'it could have been me,'" she explained. "Their first response was that they wanted to know if they could volunteer at a soup kitchen. That's a pretty good response, I'd say."
The youth pieces will be complemented by roaming troupes of Toronto's most exciting local artists, who will be performing spontaneously at different stations on Feb. 11. Commuters can expect to see choirs, drum bands, dance mobs, poets and other acts throughout the day.
Daniel Chapman-Smith, director of events at Project Humanity, called the event a "great opportunity" for students.
"It allows us to educate them on youth homelessness and then instantly empower them to do something about it," he said. "When commuters walk by, they are going to be blown away with what has been created. "
Commuters aren't the only ones who can help YWS reach its goal of 5,000 tokens. Anyone wishing to donate to the Tokens4Change cause can text "Tokens" to 45678 to donate $5, a round trip on the TTC for a homeless youth.