Don’t forget our marginalized neighbours

When it comes to solving our most complex societal issues — from tackling the roots of violence to promoting greater societal inclusion for our most marginalized neighbours — charitable community institutions are beacons of light.

Research from these groups brings informed solutions to the table and front-line staff interact every day with Canadians who are living on the margins. It is these steadfast organizations that are able to inform the good public policy that promotes economic prosperity in neighbourhoods across the country.

We require earnest leadership and coalitions that can pull together the long-term plans needed to combat our society’s long-term issues.

At its best, government can be a powerful partner alongside charitable institutions, convening organizations and strategizing for the greatest positive impacts. At its worst, government can destabilize efforts and distract from the building of essential social infrastructure.

The political pendulum swings and government priorities shift. Changes can and do create funding gaps across sectors. But it’s important that progress doesn’t stop and start because an election is coming or an election just took place.

At a Canadian Club speech last month, Medhat Mahdy, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, delivered a rallying cry for interdependence and insight across sectors.

The YMCA has taken a substantial leadership role in ensuring children are properly supported, young adults are getting opportunities that can bring out their full potential and displaced LGBTQ2S+ youth searching for transitional housing supports are lifted.

“Toronto is one of the best places in the world to live, but it doesn’t feel that way for everyone,” Mahdy said. And it’s that belief that guides him.

He has dedicated more than 42 years of his life to delivering front-line services and mapping underserviced communities across the GTA. He is mindful of how our public institutions can alter the trajectory of lives for the better, depending on how attention and resources are focused.

We need more leaders who understand what it means to live on the margins. They make decisions differently. They see through a lens that can understand the wraparound supports needed to not only lift children and families out of poverty but also set them up for long lasting economic stability and personal well-being.

As we aim to ensure those living on the margins are supported and that we are growing healthy communities, research plays a powerful role in course correcting services and improving wraparound supports in community centres.

Beginning in 2010 the YMCA of Greater Toronto partnered on the Black Experience Project alongside the United Way of Toronto and York Region, and Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and made a commitment to ensure actionable findings were incorporated into their internal planning and programming.

The joint report released this year by the YMCA of Greater Toronto and Wellesley Institute Well-Being Monitor is an excellent display of collaborative leadership in measuring impact and adjusting service delivery accordingly.

Of the research, Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, indicated, “It suggests we must foster better mental and physical health, help people feel like they belong, support opportunities to improve levels of education and employment, support immigrants, provide access to more child care programs and increase acceptance for racialized and LGBTQ2S+ community members.”

These types of research collaborations will lead the way in sustainable healthy community development efforts.

Long-term community planning requires long-term financial commitment. Where transitioning governments leave gaps, those gaps must still be filled somehow.

This week, I implore you to ask yourself who may be falling through the cracks. Identify charities that are carrying out work aimed to combat poverty, racism, unemployment, poor health and housing shortages.

Mitigation can be achieved through direction of corporate social responsibility programs, personal philanthropy and a local community culture of volunteerism.

Charities are vital stakeholders in delivering front-line services and also building community capacity for sustainable economic development that can be felt by all.

In order for their work to continue, our steadfast support is a must.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, November 11, 2018)