BY: JELANI GRANT
Roughly 500 youths, parents, and business leaders sat down to celebrate the achievements and triumphs of youth in Rexdale at the Trust 15 Youth Community Support 6th Annual Student Success Fundraising Gala, held at the Woodbine Banquet & Convention Hall.
Marcia Brown and her team of mentors and community leaders organized the annual gala to give Rexdale youth a night they may never have experienced before. “This gala has them on cloud 9 because they’ve never had this before. They’ll be wearing gowns and people donated coats…I told them the suits are for the gala but also for when they go for job interviews,” said Executive Director Marcia Brown.
The theme of this year’s gala is, ‘We have this Hope’. “A lot of kids never had that, and if they don’t have a great role model behind them, they don’t have hope,” she said.
Dignitaries in attendance for the night included Mayor John Tory, York Regional Deputy Chief Andre Crawford, Minister Michael Coteau and Councillor Doug Ford. During his time on stage, Coteau said he believes in the work Trust 15 does because, “[Marcia] puts everything she has into it, at the sacrifice sometimes of even herself.”
The Keynote speaker for the night was Woodbine Entertainment CEO, James Lawson. He commended Brown for building such an influential program and encouraged the crowd to spread the word of Trust 15. A special moment during the night’s events was an elegant waltz, performed by students from the Ladies on the Rise and Men of Distinction programs. Footage of their rehearsals can be found on the organization’s Facebook page dating back to the beginning of April. The night ended with a dance party for all guests to enjoy.
Brown founded Trust 15 in 2011 after she saw a need for a youth program that offered mentorship and life skills for youth in the community. “I live in this community and I’ve seen a lot of what goes on. A lot of these kids don’t have a lot of opportunities come their way and they’re struggling and there’s no one to lead them down the path…If you ask these kids today what they want to do, they have an answer,” she said.
When Brown first started the program, she said she had 15 young girls and never expected for it grow the way it has. “My mind was not thinking that big back then to have this big organization. But that’s telling us that there is a need. If I have 135 youth in my program, that’s saying something is going on in the community and these kids need it.” Though the program’s growing numbers continue to impress her, Brown said she is grateful to be doing it knowing the parents and kids feel fulfilled.
Every week, Trust 15 welcomes more than 120 youth, aged 7-19 years old, in the community through their Ladies on the Rise, Girls on the Rise, Boys of Excellence and Men of Distinction after-school drop-in programs and summer camps. The local area moms developed each of these programs to provide a safe, nurturing space for youth to find solutions for real-life issues.
Brown told Toronto Caribbean Newpaper some of the youth in her program are, “dealing with a lot of issues at home…the only place where they have peace is when they come into my program and they tell me “Ms., we don’t want to leave”, they hang around because they feel safe here and are more open.”
Brown said, ideally, she can see her program being used across the city but is satisfied with providing as much support and opportunities as her resources will currently allow. “I need more mentors, I need more people to volunteer but I also need funding to run these programs…people live as far as Aurora and drive their kid to Etobicoke because they said there is no other program like it. When I hear that, I would love to spread [the program] all over Toronto but at the end of the day we have to find great role models to run the program and also funding,” Brown said.
This year’s program will begin in May, and Brown said more than 35 kids have registered to join the program with numbers on the rise every year. Brown said the Boys of Excellence are scheduled to meet Lt. Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell in May. Some youth from the Ladies on the Rise and Men of Distinction programs will attend this year’s Hot Docs Festival but Brown says those events are just the start of everything planned for the youth in the Trust 15 programs.