Ontario pulls $500,000 grant promised to Toronto at-risk youth program
Thu., Aug. 23, 2018
The Ontario government has reversed a funding promise to a Toronto at-risk youth program, sending the community-based initiative into a financial scramble three weeks before the start of the new school year.
The province’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport announced last week it had cut the $500,000 funding grant promised last May to Sistema Toronto, an after-school program that teaches musical instruments to children in vulnerable communities.
Sistema currently works with 275 children ages 6 to 12 in the neighbourhoods of Parkdale, Jane-Finch and East Scarborough. It had hoped to use a $500,000 provincial grant to expand its reach.
“After-school programming is huge in helping kids stay out of trouble,” said Sistema’s managing director Hilary Johnson, adding it’s programs like this that help steer vulnerable kids away from violence.
A spokesperson for Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Sylvia Jones said the funding was hastily announced by the previous government during the election campaign.
“Unfortunately, Sistema does not meet the criteria for this grant and is not eligible for funding,” Richard Clark said.
Johnson said it was “wild” to be told the organization is not eligible, especially since they had gone through the application process and been assured they fulfilled all the requirements.
“That was quite troubling,” she said. “It’s in direct conflict with what they had told us this whole time, both in writing and in personal meetings.”
Sistema currently works with 275 children ages 6 to 12 in the neighbourhoods of Parkdale, Jane-Finch and East Scarborough. She said the majority of kids are from new immigrant families or are part of the foster-care system and many have parents or guardians who work long hours.
She said learning music helps the kids improve their communication skills, empathy and social development, adding that without a learning environment they’d be left “wandering in neighbourhoods, killing their time,” which would expose them to bad behaviour.
Johnson said the $500,000 grant would have been significant for the organization, which usually operates on an annual budget of around $900,000.
Sistema started assisting children in 2011 and has always operated on funding from various corporations and individual donations. This would have marked the first time the province was involved in its funding.
As back-to-school nears, Johnson said the program will try to continue with its plans, even though they had hoped to increase their reach with the new funding.
“We’re going to make it work,” she said. “We are not going to drop any students, we’re not going to lay off any teachers.”
Bhutila Karpoche, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, said the funding cut is “very disappointing” and called for its “immediate” reversal.
She said she has seen first-hand the impact of the program in her riding and noted kids in the after-school programs are likely to do well in school.
“Everybody knows the root cause of violence is things like poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of affordable housing and programs for kids,” she said, calling the decision to cut this funding a “backward action.”
“Instead of investing more in these preventative programs, if we start cutting them, then we’re going to see it impacting the youth, which would likely lead to increase in them getting involved in violence.”