Charity Spotlight: This post was provided by Diana Martin, Volunteer at Stonegate Community Health Centre, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
The Wednesday Women’s Program is at capacity in a tiny meeting room where they host their weekly meetings. Each week programming involves educational speakers, cooking classes, or documentary discussions, and provides attendees with a warm, safe space to learn, gain confidence, and most importantly, find friendship.
“I don’t know what I would do without this group”, says Veronica, a frequent visitor to our facilities for the past five years. Like many of the women who we help, Veronica has experienced losses in life which have left her with feelings of depression and social isolation. “I truly believe that coming through these doors saved my life.”
Outside in the Centre’s entrance area, flyers announce upcoming dates for sessions on settlement services, financial literacy, community gardening, early childhood and summer camp programs.
“Many of the local residents are surprised to discover we exist and all we have to offer”, says Bev Leaver, Stonegate’s Executive Director.
A main reason for the Centre’s low profile is due to its geographic location in the heart of two very distinct communities. Nestled in a leafy residential area in southeast Etobicoke, Stonegate-Queensway is a neighbourhood of growing inequity. While much of the area is home to affluent dwellings, the neighbourhood immediately surrounding the Centre consists of 75 low-rise rental apartment buildings housing approximately 6,000 people. Among other issues present, poverty is a serious concern particularly among children as census data reports approximately 30 percent of families living in our immediate neighbourhood are low income, with close to 40 percent of children living in those same households.
“The struggles of many residents in this community are well-hidden”, says Leaver.
While the Centre runs several programs for the wider community, including the popular Early Years drop-in programs, much of our work is aimed at those with critical needs.
Our History and Perpetual Impact
Formed in 1992, Stonegate CHC is an example of the successful CHC model combining illness prevention, health promotion and community-based programs to service local communities in particularly high risk populations. Alongside a team of family health practitioners, we offer a variety of other services including access to diabetes and asthma education, a chiropodist, dietician and more recently, a dental clinic and physiotherapist. According to Sophie Bart, Director of Primary Care, the health and wellness benefits of providing “everything under one roof” are well-proven.
“Many members of our community are older, don’t speak English, are new to Canada, earn low incomes or may have more than one chronic condition,” says Bart. Yet according to recent data, these clients visited the emergency room less than expected, a sign they are receiving strong support in their own community. But although we are making noticeable progress, we also face imminent challenges.
Today, both Stonegate CHC and our surrounding neighbourhood are in the midst of a major transition which we plan to work through in order to continue helping the most vulnerable members of our community.
Stonegate Plaza, a long-time community hub and home to the Stonegate CHC, was sold to developers in 2013 to make way for residential condominiums. When the development is fully constructed, Stonegate CHC will be relocated to the southwest corner of the site and will become a permanent fixture of our community as the Centre has secured support from government funders and negotiated a 20 year lease with the developer.
In the meantime, the Centre is still active and is the sole building on the lot while the surrounding area is developed. During the entire construction process, Centre staff have been busy working to ensure important services are not permanently lost, especially important when it comes to food security, a major issue in our community.
Following the closure and demolishment of the plaza’s grocery store, nearby residents lost easy access to healthy, fresh food. The Centre has worked for many years to increase access to nutritious, affordable food by developing strategic programs such as our Stonegate Farmers Market, expanding community gardens, establishing snack programs at two local schools, and acting as a local distributor for the Good Food Box program, a fresh fruit and vegetable initiative operated by Foodshare.
But while we acknowledge the new Stonegate development is a major change for the community, it also presents an exciting opportunity.
“When the building is completed, our Centre will be almost double the space, with much greater visibility and access,” says Leaver. “It will truly be a hub where everyone from the community is welcome. It is now the time for the community to work, to advocate, and to dream with us.”
Back at the Centre’s program room, the women in the Weekly Women’s Program dig into their nutritious lunch while Veronica expresses how grateful she is for the compassionate staff and available services.
“We are so lucky to have the Centre right in our community,” she says. “This really is my second home.”
To learn more about StonegateCommunity Health Centre, please visit their Charity Profile Page »