North Kipling Community Centre, Rexdale Community Hub providing valued services in Toronto

The North Kipling Community Centre and Rexdale Community Hub provide vital services to residents in the Mount Olive – Silverstone – Jamestown community. Nick Westoll has more on the centres and the connection to Toronto Raptors forward Dalano Banton.

If you head to the Mount Olive – Silverstone – Jamestown community in northwest Toronto, there is no shortage of spots to gather but two community centres off of Kipling Avenue are working to provide vital services and fill potential gaps.

Built in 1987, the North Kipling Community Centre became the main municipal facility in this area. In the past decade, its footprint has grown as has the need to expand the diversity of its programming.

“We definitely want to make sure that whoever walks through our front door feels welcomed and safe,” Annabella Ferrone, a recreation supervisor with the City of Toronto, told CityNews during a recent tour of the facility.

The facility, which is located between Finch Avenue West and Steeles Avenue West has many amenities, including multipurpose rooms, an indoor bocce court and kitchens. The activities for all age groups are as varied as the spaces.

“We offer programs like hair braiding, henna, cricket, dominoes, and all the sports programs, all dance programs (as well as) fitness for older adults such as yoga and Pilates,” Ferrone said.

In an area dubbed the “Youth Zone,” outreach workers are around to help participants. They can find jobs, with many of those who have been through the program going on to work for the city. Building skills and having a free drop-in setting are top priorities for the zone.

“The Amp programming teaches the youth how to DJ, types of different music engineering … We also have programs like ‘Chop It Like It’s Hot’ (that) teaches them how to cook. We also have a seed program that teaches them how to basically run their own type of garden,” Ferrone explained.

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One of the many sports offered out of North Kipling is basketball and the ability to participate in structured and drop-in programs here helped a current NBA star hone his skills.

Dalano Banton, the Toronto Raptors forward who grew up in Mount Olive, still comes by to visit years after taking part in programs as a teenager.

“Everybody’s able to go up to him, right, so that’s very nice,” Ferrone said.

After being drafted in 2021 by the Toronto Raptors, Banton recognized the role the North Kipling Community Centre as well as the Rexdale Community Hub played in his life and in his athletic development.

“Just being able to take advantage of those community centres to just keep yourself off the street, keep yourself out of trouble. You know, I feel like that was the blessing for me that I had,” Banton told reporters.

“Kids being able to see me … I go to the gyms that they went to all these years and, you know, I know a lot of people and everybody knows it’s like a tight-knit family growing up around (the neighbourhood).”

Amra Munawar, the executive director of the Rexdale Community Hub, said Banton has also made an impact within its walls.

“He’s definitely a community pride and he’s been inspiring so many youth,” she said.

Just minutes away from the North Kipling Community Centre, the Hub has been home to more than 30 different community and recreational groups and services dealing with various needs since 2010.

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Over the past few years, Munawar and her team worked in overdrive to help the area during to COVID-19 pandemic to provide much-needed supports.

“We are basically focused on seniors and single parent families and we provided them over 70,000 food hampers and hot meals,” she recalled, emphasizing ongoing problems with food insecurity in the community.

“This is something that the government should be looking into it because this is a very serious issue in that community. People who were already actually doing precarious employment before the pandemic and then now they have to do more jobs to put food on the table and roof over their head.”

Munawar added getting people online also proved to be a big need.

“Many families they were struggling with internet. Many families did not have computers in their homes,” she said.

The Rexdale Community Hub also participated in a so-called “pod” project to connect with people who were experiencing social isolation during the pandemic.

Aiman Malhi, a neighbourhood engagement coordinator with the Rexdale Community Hub, said there are three biggest issues they consistently deal with today.

“The lack of employment opportunities for many of us, housing remains a major limitation for a lot of people, and then food insecurity,” she said.

Despite those challenges, staff at the Hub said they want to keep helping neighbourhood residents fulfill the goals of the community.

“Since we started, we’ve had over a million visits,” Munawar said.

“This space actually entertains to everyone in the family, so we offer so many programs and they’re all under one roof so it’s not actually people having to travel.”

Malhi added they’ve been working with youth in different ways to increase engagement among younger people, such as fostering an interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

With files from Meredith Bond

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