For Youth Initiative was born out of the simple idea that given the chance, young people can become the successful adults they want to be. The organization was formed in 1995 as a pilot project by a group of non-profit professionals who shared the belief that all young people deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. Establishing the project in York South-Weston, a region in the far northwest corner of Toronto where resources for youth were scarce, the group was well-situated to put their belief to work.
Weston Road near Lawrence Avenue West, 1963, City of Toronto Archives
York South-Weston is a vibrant community, rich in history and diversity. However, like many neighbourhoods along the fringes of Toronto, it has its challenges. York South-Weston was once an industrial centre where blue collar workers and their families settled around the factories that employed them. But as automation replaced labour and manufacturing went overseas, the factories that many families depended upon closed down. As a result, unemployment soared and local businesses shuttered their doors. The area now bears little resemblance to the thriving, self-sustaining community it once was.
Weston Road Storefronts, 2015 – Image by Dnllnd via Wikimedia Commons
Today, York South-Weston comprises 6 neighborhoods that the City of Toronto has identified as neighborhood improvement areas, communities where funding and social services are needed to address significant social and economic issues. Due to its low cost of living, many single parent and working class families have made York South-Weston their home. In fact, almost a third of households are single parent homes, compared to 1 in 5 in Toronto. York South-Weston has the lowest household income in the Greater Toronto Area. In this diverse community, residents hail from the Caribbean, South America, Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the horn of Africa. Of the nearly 115,000 people living in York South-Weston, over a quarter live under the poverty line. Of children (defined as under the age of 18), 2 in 5 live in poverty.
The population of York South-Weston is young. Many teenagers and young adults live, learn and play here. Their attempts to establish themselves as they transition to adulthood are often frustrated by the barriers that persist in the area. Meagre local employment, few youth spaces and an isolated location disconnected from transit, jobs and post-secondary campuses often prevent the young residents of York South-Weston from participating in Toronto’s prosperity.
For Youth Initiative
In 1995, the founders of For Youth Initiative established their project in a local community centre. Where others perceived challenges, they saw potential. They saw youth who were bright, strong and ready to take on opportunities to learn and grow. With that in mind, the founders set out on their mission. Soon, local youth began to pass through For Youth Initiative’s doors. As word spread, neighborhood residents who believed in the organization’s cause came to support For Youth Initiative and get involved. Over time, this modest pilot project grew into a bustling multiservice agency providing an array of services and programs to over 1,000 young residents each year.
Today, For Youth Initiative is an important pillar of the York South-Weston community. Our community centre provides a safe space for local teenagers and young adults to learn and grow, explore new possibilities and celebrate their successes. Program participants come to For Youth Initiative to pursue their passions, develop their skills, and make decisions that will benefit themselves, their peers and their community. Through the programs at FYI, youth develop leadership skills that enable them to positively represent themselves and their community, advocate for their needs and share their vision for our city.
The many youth who have come to For Youth Initiative each year provide a compelling demonstration of the idea that inspired the formation of the organization: given the chance, young people can become the successful adults they want to be!