This past summer, I had the opportunity to witness the power of church unity as several churches in our community came together to minister to the children living in Willowtree - a community housing complex in our neighbourhood.
This year both Toronto City Mission and Youth Unlimited ended the camps that had previously been running in this vulnerable community for different reasons. As a result, the children were left without any summer programming. As I considered the care and resources my own family had devoted to planning my kids’ summer holidays, I felt it was important to try and fill this gap. It was the beginning of June and we only had one month to make this happen.
Because of the relationships that have been built through the We Love Willowdale movement following the Yonge Street Tragedy, many of the churches in Willowdale worked together as a coalition to address this need in our community. I was also able to tap into some resources from North York Moms and community members I had met during my election campaign.
As a result of our efforts, $22K was raised that allowed the hiring of two staff dedicated to the children in Willowtree and we were able to provide camp for over 30 kids for up to 6 weeks. Although there were some challenging moments, it was a joy for me to be able to work with my brothers and sisters across our community to make this happen. A highlight for me was seeing a group of Willowtree kids take to the stage at Willowdale Baptist Church singing and dancing to worships songs alongside other children from the community, including my daughter who also attended the camp.
Without this camp initiative, many of these kids would have been left unsupervised the entire summer without the learning opportunities and mentorship provided by camp. Our hope for this camp was for the children to know that they are loved and valued by God and by the community, for them to learn some new things and experience a level of integration with children from the greater community.
I would like to give special thanks to Willowdale Pentecostal who stretched to bring the kids into their camp for 4 of the 6 weeks. Other churches that made this summer possible: Spring Garden Church, Peoples Church, Willowdale Baptist Church North York Chinese Baptist Church, Faith Church & Broken Bread Church.
I had the privilege of going on one of the field trips with the kids. Many of them did not bring a lunch, although they had been instructed to do so. Jeff Barker, who has worked in the community for many years, said this is not uncommon and many of these kids go to school hungry.
It is hard to believe this is happening in our church neighbourhood surrounded by multi-million dollar homes and many Christian churches. As we consider the future of this community, one where currently there is no after school program or homework club planned for the first time in many years, I pray the churches in Willowdale would rise up to the challenge to care for these children.
At the same time, I believe there is much we can learn from the families who live in this community. While sitting in the park at Willowtree one day I met a young man who is autistic. His eyes were gentle and he had a unique way of greeting each person with a special handshake. I watched as many who walked by stopped to greet him. I later found out that after he lost his mom, a family in Willowtree has adopted him and cares for him. They have truly lived out the verse, “love your neighbour as yourself.” May we also seek to do the same.
I would also like to thank Greg and Spring Garden leadership for allowing me to champion this. It took up more of my time than expected and I was given a measure of grace and flexibility to do this.
by Lily Cheng