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Building Community Initiatives: MFRC gets a new safe space for teens

Malvern Family Resource Centre (MFRC) launched its community initiative Youth Hub a couple of weeks ago at 1321 Neilson Rd, Scarborough. It is a part of city operations property initiatives around the city in libraries and recreation centres as the result of a rapid expansion of the area. This hub acts not only as a safe space for teens but is also important as it is located in a part of the city often lacking dedicated resources.

It is located at just a 7 minute walk from a broader community area at the Malvern library that has been under closure since covid, acting as a very good alternative space where children can thrive and use the space as their own to collaborate, meet-up and do projects together.

The news outlet- Toronto Star covered the launch of this youth hub, talking to a number of stakeholders involved –

On the day of the launch, the hub was vibrating with people, which included children of all ages doing crafts, playing Super Smash Bros. on a Nintendo Switch projecting on a new flat-screen TV, playing with the Oculus Rift virtual reality machines and others chatting with their mentors and MFRC volunteers. To show support for this launch, the event was also attended by Jennifer McKelvie- Deputy Mayor of Toronto, Councillor- Jamaal Myers and Gary Anandasangaree- Member of Parliament, and also the sponsors- Nava Wilson team.

The Star spoke with several youngsters who said they were happy to have their own space as this space had been designed using their output making it very special and with different activities happening in the week they looked forward to attending them.

Toronto Star reporter also talked to a 19-year-old boy who said that during his time they did not have a lot of after-school programs, however things changed for him after he was invited by the resource centre to play soccer which was free and open for all age groups, this place made such a huge impact on his life that it led to him becoming a coach himself. “It also gave me the chance to be somewhat of a role model,” he told the Star.

There was previously an existing community property run by the Malvern Family Resource Centre. However, according to MFRC youth manager Anjali Gaur- “Before the pandemic kids tended to gather there, but it was only open once a week until around 6 p.m. and was not officially a youth hub. The teens were asking for more and it’s really just a great way to break the ice with some of these youth because we do have a very vulnerable population coming out here to access our services,” Gaur told the Star.

The youth hub received funding from local Real Estate Law firm Nava Wilson LLP and the space was outfitted to be more Gen Z friendly, decorated with coloured LED lights, filled with games and activities and was done using the input of children themselves who put forward their views.

Kubes Navaratnam, Managing Partner at the law firm Nava Wilson LLP, said he grew up in Scarborough as did several of their staff members.

“We love Scarborough and all the diverse people and places it has to offer,” he said. “But Scarborough, and our greater community in general, would thrive further if we could create nurturing environments and spaces to engage our youth to become contributing members of our society.”

Navaratnam said he was “blessed” to have access to such youth spaces, which had a lasting impact on him. “Reflecting back to my teenage years, I have fond memories of spaces that my friends and I used to spend together. Those spaces have had a lasting impact on me. As a business, we try to find like-minded community organizations that have are customer focused and have the entrepreneurial spirit to evolve. We saw that in the the Malvern leadership team – they brought youth to the table and co-created this space. We’ve seen them do that through their “Earned Income” programs as well.

“So when we thought of how to support our community’s youth, working at MFRC was our first choice as they have been championing youth for decades,” he said. “MFRC’s leadership team brought youth to the table and empowered them to co-create this space. We are excited to see how this space will incubate our community’s next leaders.”

The new space is just steps away from the Malvern Town Centre, a popular after-school hangout. The team hopes some of those teens will gravitate to the new space as word spreads.