by Amanda Young
“Three fruits, three vegetables, something salty, and something sweet,” I hear Josie D’Agostino, Program Coordinator at 1900 Sheppard’s Young Parent Resource Centre say to Thakchoe the Childcare Specialist (who’s kind of like Madonna, because she doesn’t have a last name and has acquired a sort of celebrity status among the clients and staff) as they prepare snacks for the evening’s programming.
Food is a reason to bring people together but it certainly isn’t the reason why tenants and community members continue to frequent 1900 Sheppard’s programs. Tonight’s program: creating a giant community canvas to represent the 1900 Sheppard community. Youth begin to trickle in and look at the pictures splayed out on the table for them to choose and artfully cut up for the canvas. Paints, beads, and glue decorate the floor where they will all gather together to create a masterpiece. As they look through the pictures, the wealth of experiences they have shared together becomes a source for great conversation and they quickly begin to take trips down memory lane. Overnight camping, BBQ’s, awards ceremonies, and tons of pictures of children elicit laughter and conversation amongst the youth. Soon enough they sit down begin the art project for this evening’s program, which is being facilitated by one of the tenants who lives in the building. As the youth sit and complete the canvas together they talk about what they did that week, share childcare tips, and their summer plans. By the end of the evening, there is a giant canvas filled with memories, words of encouragement, and paint. It’s a nice feeling when most of the youth take out their phones to take pictures of what they all created together.
I get so excited when I find a community-based program that is really awesome. Shameless has a great blog, and I thought it should have some highlights of some great programs available in Toronto. The atmosphere at 1900 Sheppard is warm, honest, and welcoming. As a volunteer, I have some inside scoop about the program, the staff, and the tenants. 1900 Sheppard holds a very special place in my heart. So, as my first program profile, I chose 1900 Sheppard. Here it is, friends!
Who and What is 1900 Sheppard?
1900 Sheppard’s Young Parent Resource Centre is managed by Humewood House in partnership with Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC). This collaboration creates a lovely combination of transitional housing and programming for young mothers. Young women and their children involved in the program are provided geared to income rent through TCHC with the benefits of programming through Humewood House. The building itself is a TCHC apartment building with 24 one-bedroom apartments and 4 two-bedroom apartments. On the ground level, there is a resource centre available for tenants and other community members. There is also an amenities room and two outdoor common spaces for tenants and their children to use. Tenants can stay at 1900 Sheppard for a maximum of four years young families in the community can participate in evening programs and workshops. The overarching goals of the program and space at 1900 Sheppard is to create a community of young women who feel independent, confident, and empowered. Within their four year tenancy, residents are expected to work to meet personal goals towards self-sufficiency and independence.
What’s It Like to Be Part of the Program?
“It’s not just about housing, it’s about building a community of young mothers,” D’Agostino states to a prospective tenant—and she isn’t lying. If you become a tenant then there are expectations that you will complete a minimum of five volunteer hours a month, attend monthly tenant meetings, show up to evening programs, and be in a full-time ‘program’ (school, work, or a combination of both). The idea is quite literally to create a community where young parents and their children can have a safe and supportive space to learn, grow, and feel empowered.
Sabrina Morataya has lived at 1900 Sheppard for two years. At age 19, she applied to live at 1900 Sheppard with her two-month-old daughter. “I was living by myself, and it was really hard for me to purchase basic necessities because of how high market rent is.”
Sabrina has been an active member of the 1900 Sheppard community. “We’re given lots of great opportunities and I want to utilize it to my advantage,” and she has done just that. In addition to working towards a Women’s Studies degree at York University, Sabrina has seized the opportunity to speak at several events, including agency galas and more recently, an International Women’s Day event at Toronto Police Headquarters recognizing D’Agostino for her dedication to advocacy towards the social empowerment of women. “I like the support from staff and the fact that there are other girls coming from the same situation. I like that it’s a community of us. We take care of each other.” Morataya said of the program.
These sentiments are not only shared by those currently living at 1900 Sheppard. Previous tenants and young mothers in the community attend the evening programs where they get to do a whole range of activities and workshops including: Yoga, parenting, supper clubs, “circle talks” on various topics, self-care and mental health. One of the most successful programs has been ‘SurvivorGirl’ a program developed in partnership Toronto Police officer Jen Nantais where girls come together to prepare a big meal followed by conversations about meaningful and relevant topics like bullying and domestic abuse. The SurvivorGirls recently went on an overnight camping trip where many of them braved the wilderness for the first time. A group of the girls also successfully completed the requirements for the Duke of Edinburgh program, earning them the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award. Measuring success quantifiably in the social sector can be a tough thing to do, but according to 1900 Sheppard staff, tenants, and program attendees it is undoubtedly clear that they created a safe and empowering community of young women and their families.
Who Is Eligible for Tenancy at 1900 Sheppard?
• Mothers aged 16 - 19 years old and;
• Qualify for a Housing Connections Number with Toronto Community Housing and;
• Are without a permanent home (homeless), or are living with friends or family (under-housed) or need affordable housing and;
• Are ready to live independently (but with supports) and are prepared to work towards self-sufficiency and;
• Have a form of income.
If you or someone you know is between the ages of 16 to 19 and would like to apply to Humewood House’s 1900 Sheppard: A Community for Young Mothers, please go to their website to check out their information package and complete their initial application. If you are a young mother wanting to attend evening programming or have any questions regarding services and resources available at 1900 Sheppard, please contact Josie D’Agostino at 647-349-0109.
Amanda Young is a former high-school educator turned youth worker and advocate who is passionate about social change and restorative justice. She believes in the power of community, education, and civic engagement. She’s a vegan who enjoys knitting, photography, and Instagramming her nail art. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.