York to the Power of 50: York unveils a new centre in Black Creek

On Wednesday, York University, with the support of a $1-million gift from TD Bank Financial Group, opened the doors to a new facility that will serve the University and its neighbouring communities.

The York University – TD Community Engagement Centre extends the University’s presence in the community by offering faculty, students and community members a variety of opportunities to participate in mutually beneficial research and learning experiences. Located on the second floor of the Yorkgate Mall at Finch Avenue West and Jane Street in Toronto, the centre has a mandate to enhance student learning, build stronger community ties and will lead a variety of community and University-related initiatives.   

Above: From left, York Chancellor R. Roy McMurtry; Paul Thompson, a York alumnus and a volunteer at the event; York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri; Almaz Reda, chair of the Jane-Finch Caring Village; Bill Hatanaka, chairman and CEO of TD Waterhouse; and Mursal Hafizi, a first-year York student, tie the ribbon as a symbol of the union between the University and the community

The opening, complete with festive music supplied by the student musicians of the Oakdale Park Middle School Steel Pan Band, brought together members of the Black Creek neighbourhood with members of the York University and TD Bank Financial Group communities to hear all about the centre’s mandate and importance to area residents and University researchers.

Rhonda Lenton (left), dean of York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and chair of the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement, served as the master of ceremonies for the opening, which was attended by more than 200 people. Featured guests included York Chancellor Roy McMurtry; York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri; York University Foundation President and CEO Paul Marcus; York alumnus Bill Hatanaka, chairman and CEO of TD Waterhouse; senior members of the York administration, faculty and staff; Judy Sgro, federal member of parliament for York West, provincial and municipal government representatives; Almaz Reda, chair of Jane-Finch’s Caring Village; along with numerous community leaders, volunteers and local educators. Also in attendance was Mursal Hafizi, a first-year Faculty of Arts student and the recipient of the Chancellor Bennett Entrance Award for the Westview Partnership scholarship.

In her opening remarks, Lenton expressed her delight at the turnout for the opening. "The York University – TD Community Engagement Centre is a teaching, research and resource centre that will support and extend partnerships between the University and the community in Black Creek. It will be guided by and accountable to an advisory council of community leaders and York University faculty members," said Lenton. "The centre’s activities include educational initiatives such as student placements and community-based learning that draws on our community partners’ expertise and also allows the community to benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of York students and faculty."

Right: Students from Oakdale Park Middle School Steel Pan Band play during the centre’s opening

"The best research that York University can hope to conduct is that which is driven by partnership," said Lenton, "which is exactly what this centre has made possible. Other activities such as York’s legal and tax clinics will also operate here benefiting residents while our students gain valuable hands-on learning experience."

"This is a truly an historic day for both the community and York University," said McMurtry. "We hope that all students will be inspired to imagine themselves with an academic future – and we believe that by providing a physical presence in the community, we have made the path to the University an easier one."

Left: Roy McMurtry (left) looks on as York alumnus Bill Hatanaka of TD addresses guests present for the opening of The York University – TD Community Engagement Centre

“This centre is a great opportunity for York University and its neighbouring communities to share information in a way that will benefit everyone,” added Shoukri. “It will give community members access to the knowledge and services they need, and an opportunity to share their experiences with students and faculty who want to enhance research and learning in a meaningful way."

For Hatanaka (BA ‘77), chairman and CEO of TD Waterhouse, member of the York University Foundation Board of Directors and co-chair of the York to the Power of 50 Campaign, the centre’s creation speaks to his own personal commitment toward community engagement and TD’s commitment to making a difference in the community. “The centre is a demonstration of TD’s desire to be a positive force in the economic development of the communities which we serve,” he said.

"TD’s commitment is part of the York to the Power of 50 Campaign, in honour of York’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations in 2009," said Hatanaka. "The centre’s opening is timely as it provides an accessible ‘front door’ to York University for Black Creek residents and organizations. As a two-way conduit, the centre will enhance learning opportunities by giving students hands-on experience and will support research partnerships among stakeholders with like-minded concerns."

Almaz Reda, community resident and chair of the Jane Finch Caring Village said, “There is a hope in the community that this centre will serve as a more obvious and beneficial link to York University. Having a centre located in Yorkgate Mall will help the community to partner with one of its greatest assets.” 

For Hafizi, a first-year Faculty of Arts student at York, the kind of support offered by the University has been life-changing. Hafizi is a graduate of Emory Collegiate and an active member of the Jane-Finch community. She said the scholarship has allowed her to pursue her dream of a university education. "I hope to one day attend Osgoode Hall Law School and become a successful lawyer. The support offered by York University and the Chancellor Bennett Entrance Award for the Westview Partnership scholarship will allow me to really concentrate on my studies. Thank you everyone for this centre," said Hafizi.

Above: Members of The York University – TD Financial Community Engagement Centre working group. Back row, from left to right: Rosemary Moore, Rhonda Lenton, Norma Sue Fisher Stitt, Gervan Fearon, Barry Reider, Sue Levesque and Glenn Stuart. Front row, from left to right: Martha Rogers, Don Dippo, Cheryl Prescod, Susan McGrath, Leolyn Hendricks, Michaela Hynie, Almaz Reda and Nury Rugeles

The centre is slated to offer programs including tax preparation clinics, small business consulting, initiatives to help mature female students return to school, counselling, tutoring and mentoring. Ideally, someone entering the centre for one program may come across other available services on site, such as legal advice, university entrance information or community nursing. 

Sue Levesque, executive director of the centre, will use her expertise in experiential education and community-university initiatives to administer the satellite centre, with guidance from an advisory council comprised of local service providers and senior university members. 

Right: York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (left), Sue Levesque and Bill Hatanaka

“The centre represents a true partnership between York and the community and I am grateful to all who have played a role in making it a reality,” said Levesque. “I am anxious to demonstrate the many ways in which we all can make a difference in the community.”

Visit The York University – TD Community Engagement Centre Web site for more information on the many exciting initiatives that will take place at the centre.

Donations to The York University – TD Community Engagement Centre support York to the Power of 50, the largest fundraising campaign in York’s history.

For more information or to donate, contact York University Foundation at 416-650-8210 or contact@yorkfoundation.yorku.ca.