Telling stories of hope

She has seen terrible tragedy and is a witness to great hope. Shobha Adore, executive director of Braeburn Neighbourhood Place, came to York University recently to tell the story of how the United Way has benefited her organization.

Left: Shobha Adore

Located in Rexdale, Ont., Braeburn Neighbourhood Place provides community support to one of the poorest of Toronto’s inner city areas. Adore’s speech to members of the York community was part of York University’s United Way leadership campaign. Thirty-five people attended the November event to hear Adore tell them how their support of the United Way has affected community agencies like Braeburn.

York Professor Eileen Fischer spoke about the need for the leadership level of support and its importance to the United Way. Fischer, who teaches at the Schulich School of Business, is this year’s leadership campaign Chair.

“Although we haven’t established a goal specifically for the University’s Leadership Campaign, it is my hope that we surpass last year’s total,” said Fischer. “We need your help and support to do this. We are a large institution with a tremendous capacity for giving. Leadership giving is a United Way program that identifies prospective donors and recognizes those who make annual gifts of $1,000 or more and is the fastest growing area of United Way’s Annual Campaign.

“In 2003, Leadership donors contributed $33.7 million to the United Way, representing 40 per cent of the overall Annual Campaign achievement,” said Fischer who then introduced Adore.

Adore began her presentation by talking about a young man whose life began with adversity and has since been transformed. “Christopher Carter was born 17 years ago in a social housing complex about 15 minutes away from York University. By the time he was six, his reality included a man shot in the head down the hallway of his apartment building, routine raids by the drug and vice squads, and finding food wherever he could,” said Adore. “He played by himself behind locked doors while his mother went to work. The windows could not be opened because of what crawled in the dumpsters right outside. Speech delays made him easy prey and he began to carry the stripes of ‘retard’, ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ on his back every day. When he was 13, he joined a street gang where carrying a 9-mm semi-automatic pistol is a rite of passage.

“The community where Braeburn is located and Carter lives has been designated ‘poor’ or ‘at risk’,” explained Adore. For many years, the junior school ranked first or second as the most at-risk in Etobicoke according to the inner-city school index.

“A year ago, the Toronto Star analyzed the police services statistics, and found that patrol area 2302 or Rexdale was found to have had more people charged with violent crimes than anywhere else in the city,” said Adore. “Their definition of violence covers offences such as attempted murder, assault with a weapon, violent sexual crimes and forcible confinement.”

The United Way was one of the few organizations to enter into the heart of this potentially explosive mixture of disadvantaged youth, poverty and violence. “Braeburn Neighbourhood Place is one of the many organizations that United Way funds in the poorest parts of the inner city suburbs,” said Adore. “We provide a range of programs in eight of the most at risk neighbourhoods in Etobicoke, serving more than 5,000 children, youth and adults through food security, before- and after-school clubs, Ontario Early Years Centre, licensed childcare and school-based child nutrition.”

In 1998, the children at Braeburn were almost last in province-wide grade three testing, scoring 11, 14 and 17 per cent in reading, writing and math, Adore explained. Following a grant from the United Way for a homework club which provided “things we take for granted including a table, a chair, dinner, access to a computer, pencil crayons, glue, quiet and safety”, those scores by 2002 were raised to 50, 51 and 51 per cent respectively and have held steady for almost two years.

Over a decade ago, Braeburn started school-based child nutrition programs in response to incidents where children were stealing lunches that were left in desks and eating them at recess, breaking into the school staff room and taking only apples and juice boxes, and opting out of school trips because they didn’t have a decent bagged lunch. “Now United Way dollars coordinate nutrition programs every day for about 4,000 children and provides the assurance that they will have enough tomorrow,” said Adore.

As it turned out, gang membership was not a rubicon for Christopher Carter. “One evening he was hanging around the school yard and decided to go in to get warm for a couple of minutes and six months later, he was still there,” said Adore. “His mother made her first trip to our offices in tears to say that her son had decided to never wear a bandana again. Chris is now a member of our after-school staff.”

Donating to York University’s United Way Campaign will help fund worthwhile projects like the Braeburn Neighbourhood Place and the programs it operates. Currently, York’s United Way Campaign has raised $145,000 toward the goal of $185,000. Giving to the United Way is an act of community and concern that works to everyone’s benefit. If you have not already filled out your pledge card or would like more information on the 2004 campaign, visit York’s United Way Campaign Web site, or contact Danielle Chateau at ext. 55597 or e-mail