Ralph Thornton Centre
Our Impact Why We Exist
The Ralph Thornton Centre develops programs, nourishes culture, and empowers citizen action. As a community organization, we work with agencies, individuals, and groups to build the capacity of a caring, healthy and vibrant Riverdale. Here neighbours meet, enjoy programs, exchange support, and celebrate special events.
Our Core Priorities are to;
- Strengthen our Neighbourhoods
- Provide Accessible Community Space
- Deliver High Quality Programming
- Stabilize and Develop the Organization
- Improve and Diversify our Resource Base
- Communicate Effectively
Our Story What We Do
History of Organization
The Ralph Thornton Centre (RTC) was established by the City of Toronto in 1980 as a community board operated multi service organization. RTC is committed to building a strong, inclusive, and healthy community. The Centre works with residents, community groups, and partner agencies to foster collective change and offers diverse programming and services that reflect the needs of South Riverdale, as well as providing an accessible community meeting place.
Issues of underemployment, insecure housing, food insecurity, newcomer settlement, family poverty, inadequate support of child and youth development, and adult social isolation have been identified as community concerns. RTC provides a variety of programs and services to help build the community's capacity and resiliency, such as children's afterschool and summer programs, newcomer children and youth mentor programs, food security, financial literacy, and access to technology. All RTC programs reflect the needs of the local neighbourhood with a focus on the most vulnerable of our community.
Accolades and Accomplishments
The Ralph Thornton Centre has a long history within the community and has an excellent reputation amongst residents, service providers, and schools. RTC is seen as a leader in community development and providing services and programs for all ages that are inclusive and represent and reflect the community's needs and priorities. Our centere is committed to building a strong, inclusive and healthy community. We work with residents, community groups, and partner agencies to foster collective change.
In recent years we have seen a number of young people who were once served through our children's programs return as youth and young adult volunteers and leaders. The sentiment of wanting to give back to the community and to RTC for offering the support, encouragement, and skill development when they needed it has been echoed by many of these young people. This trend further supports RTC's commitment to providing progressive and stable child and youth programming to foster the development of leaders within our communities.
For many years RTC has successfully used a variety of visual and theatre arts techniques to engage children, youth and adults within a variety of the programs we offer. In 2010 The Neighbourhood Arts Network awarded RTC as 1 of the 5 most Arts Community Engaged Organizations in Toronto.
Our Programs How We Do It
The Ralph Thornton Centre provides a variety of programs and services that reflect the needs and interests of residents in south east Toronto. RTC remains responsive to the local community and strives to adapt and tailor its programs and services to reflect changes and trends in the community.
- Children and Youth Mentor Program: Newcomer Chinese children, youth mentors, newcomer families (siblings, parents, and grandparents). Focuses on English language development and cultural adaptation through afterschool academic, recreational, and social programming.
- Afterschool Program: Children 6-12 years, families of the children. Focuses on academic and social skills development through recreational activities.
- RAC Summer Camp: Children 5 – 12 years, youth 18 – 30 years as Camp Counsellors, youth 13 – 16 years as Counsellors in Training (CIT's), and the children's families.
- Community Development: All residents of Riverdale though the primary target area is Rivertowne, a new rent-geared-to-income community developed by Toronto Community Housing. A variety of resident engagement techniques are employed to support residents in identifying community priorities, increasing community capacity, and creating community change.
- Community Initiated Wellness and Social Activities: A wide variety of health, wellness, social, and support groups hosted at RTC, such as children's and adult Tae Kwon Do, meditation, ballroom dance, cultural activities, seniors tea club, creative writing and alcohol and drug support groups to name a few.
Children and Youth Mentor Program
The Children and Youth Mentor Program is a unique program offered to newcomer Chinese children, youth, and their families. It is successful in reaching out to very vulnerable members of our community and it provides an effective programming model to support newcomer children and youth adapt to Canadian culture. During the 2012/2013 year, the program has had a waiting list for each session and program participants clearly articulated the desire for increased services.
Each day the children take part in a number of physical, social, and academic activities designed to support social skills, English language development, and cultural learning. Activities include arts, crafts, and physical activity, as well as a variety of group games that encourage social skill development, problem solving, and positive peer relationships. In addition, children are tutored daily by youth mentors using individualized lesson plans to support the different levels of English comprehension and to provide homework assistance.
The Mentor Program provides leadership opportunities for local youth of diverse cultural heritages. Some of the mentors were mentees themselves and return to help support others; others are recruited through local secondary schools. The youth are involved in a variety of formal and informal leadership development training sessions and are supported daily by the Program Coordinator.
Funding and Program Partners
The Children and Youth Mentor Program is supported through a variety of partnerships and collaborations within the local community. We would like to thank the Toronto District School Board's ESL teachers and settlement workers for their support with outreach and referrals; the Toronto Public Library Saulter and Riverdale branches, which provide support with library services and resources as well as generously contributing space on a weekly basis; the City of Toronto (Community Partnerships Program) for its generous financial support.
Most of the children and many of the youth mentors experience varying degrees of social isolation and disconnection when they begin our program, are often not doing well at school, and are rarely participating in social and recreational activities. Through program participation the youth gain very tangible and concrete results.
- Improvement in English language skills and in school grades.
- Increased participation and engagement in social and physically active recreational activities.
- Increased and improved peer friendships that continue beyond the program.
- Improved self esteem, self confidence and self efficacy.
Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program
"Canada's children are, on average, sedentary for almost two-thirds of their waking hours (62% of the time), including 59% of the time between 3 and 6 PM. On average, children spend only about 14 minutes of those three hours even moving around."
(Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2011)
"The fact that children are largely passive is not because sports facilities and physical activity programs aren't available locally. 93% of Canadian parents report that they are available, and 95% report that parks and outdoor play spaces exist nearby. Reasons for non-participation are more likely to include lack of time (especially among those with low incomes), and feelings of social isolation, or intimidation, rather than lack of access to, or the availability of, programming."
(Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2011)
"As a newcomer, my life was at a halt and I was suffering from a lack of friends and from being isolated from friends and the community. I found myself sitting in my room alone far more often than I would have liked. Things were like that for a while, until I enrolled in the Mentor Program... I came to Canada not knowing what to expect. But it has become clear to me that it was well worth it. I know I can find help, friends, and a better perspective on a new life through everyone involved with the Mentor Program." Ai Lin, 11 years (translated by Jianli Zhang, Coordinator).
"The Children and Youth Mentor program makes me feel much more comfortable about people in general. I gained a sense of belonging in the community, and built up my self-confidence. Young people, especially [ones] who have language/culture barriers, really need a little help to start their lives. I come to this program to build relationships with mentees, assist them to develop language and social skills through various fun activities... this experience changed my perspective of working with others." Vanice, Youth Mentor, 16 years old.
What You Can Do
Children and Youth Mentor Program
Activities a donation will support
Financial support will enable the Ralph Thornton Centre to increase the hours of our Coordinator, hire 1 part time Youth Worker, and increase spaces in the Children and Youth mentor program by an additional 40 youth spaces per year.
With increased financial support the Coordinator and a newly hired Youth Worker will establish new group sessions that will build on the existing program but will be directed towards middle school aged youth (12 – 14 years), and will increase opportunities for youth mentors. This addition will fill a much needed gap in service for middle school aged children and youth and will support their self esteem, academic, and social progress, and help them to participate meaningfully within their new community.