Santa comes to Jane and Finch

My name is Ayesha and I’m a part time elf. Technically, I’m a Drummer Girl, but I find elf catchier. If you’re a child, read no further. If you’re a grownup, then once you’re done reading this, please make sure you hide this newspaper where a child can’t reach it. The last thing I need is the kids finding out I’m not from the North Pole. 

I’ve worked at Santa displays in the Jane Finch community for about half a decade now. Each year around mid November, we haul out the fairy dust and cotton fluff and paint our smiles bright in anticipation of the children’s arrivals. Each year the same ones come back a little taller. 

When I started this job, I knew I would have fun with the costumes, but I didn’t anticipate how attached I would grow to the specific kids who keep coming back to Santa’s workshop year after year. The process is simple; we give them a free Santa photo and then the kids come over to the decoration station for arts and crafts. We make ornaments, keepsakes and trinkets, and sometimes we even break out the gingerbread cookies (of which I eat more than I’m proud to admit.) We guide their little hands and help them with things they can’t do, like using hot glue guns and holding scissors. Our set is so beloved that it gets so busy sometimes I can hardly move!

Over the course of my time, I’ve gotten letters from little girls addressed to my elf name, telling me their wishes. I remember kids who were once up to my knee and are now old enough to give me attitude. I’m on people’s fridges and in their hearts, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays. Being a part of this community in such a personal way has taught me that if you put something wholesome out in this community, people will use it, and if you give children a little love, they come back with a lot. 

You can visit Santa at the Jane Finch Mall weekends from 1PM-4PM!

Tokens are being phased out by the TTC

After multiple false attempts due to public concerns, the TTC retired tokens from general circulation on November 30th. TTC booths no longer sell tokens. Instead the TTC is encouraging the public to “move to a PRESTO card now to avoid potential line ups”. The move was delayed several times due to a myriad of problems with PRESTO. The TTC itself is going after Metrolinx for costs related to PRESTO’s for millions and the troubled pay system has created problems for customers from day one. 

Tokens were simple and their functionality is still years away from being replaced by PRESTO. This affects all transit users, but more so those that face barriers to get around. The design of the PRESTO system was never user friendly, from its retrofit of stations that reduced payment points for the sake of efficiency, to cards that take 24 hours to charge online, to the lack of payment points outside of subway stations. 

The public paid hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a system where it is harder to find a place that can charge your card. Whereas before, you could go into a number of small stores that sold tokens and tickets, now only Shoppers Drug Mart carries them and they are not everywhere. In buses and streetcars, every single user of the PRESTO card has run into broken equipment. The problem in development may be the lack of foresight into how people use transit and what their needs are. 

Case in point are the criticisms of the change from social and community workers and schools. There were people out there that needed free tokens to bridge gaps that allowed them to go to a job interview, attend school or receive health care services. For someone out of a job, going to 5 interviews with the price of tickets for adults being what it is, can add up quickly and prevent them from trying. Some students sometimes skip school because they cannot afford a bus ticket every day and this can lead to lower grades. Schools know this and always have bus tokens on hand. The new PRESTO system does not allow for an easy exchange of a single trip fare. 

This again is a design problem that other transit systems have already figured out. Since we are behind here in Toronto, an exception is being made for some of the social agencies and school boards. They will continue to have access to tokens until the system is more functional. The TTC thinks it has lost $3.4 million in fares due to the pay system. The app itself is still being upgraded and several years into it, there are many functionalities that are still a work in progress.

Needless to say that the consensus is that this was not an improvement, as much as moving towards a regional payment system was necessary. Tokens will be missed. 

Community program creating a much-needed safe space for Latinx Youth

Teach2Learn (T2L) is a local grassroots organization that hosts a weekly program, “Academic Youth Success” which has created a space for Latinx youth to come together and participate in educational workshops. These workshops cover topics like: youth engagement, mediation, mindfulness, financial planning, public speaking, being a newcomer, racism, sexism, and other important topics. There are no other programs in the community that aim to help the growing Latinx community in Toronto and Jane and Finch. T2L’s goal is to bring together local Latinx youth and expand their sense of community and awareness by sharing their personal experiences in a safe space and exploring future professional goals. 

The program developed a mentorship portion and it is attended by both mentors and mentees from the Latinx community. Mentees are paired up and provide guidance, connection, and the right resources for the youths’ needs. This includes sharing job opportunities, resume building, learning about the post-secondary process and ensuring the transition from high school to post-secondary is smooth and most importantly encouraged. T2L also provides dinner and bus fare so youth can easily access the workshops. 

Academic Youth Success has been rewarding to both youth and mentors alike. Ebony, one of the mentors explains how this has been a positive experience for her:

“Being a mentor has been such a rewarding experience. I have been able to see the youth grow in so many areas of their lives through mentorship. It is exciting to see them become more confident, outspoken and comfortable in their own skin. Listening to the youth’s experiences has also pushed me to grow and allowed me to learn from them. Mentorship is extremely important because it provides our youth support and encouragement to confront life’s various adversities and helps us as mentors reflect on our lives and grow along with the youth. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a mentor.” 

Youth are also given the opportunity to volunteer at local events and receive community service hours via the initiative.  Reference letters are also provided for youth who require them in job applications or for their studies.  The program is attended by Canadian-Latinx and newcomers in the area between the ages of 14-20.

One of the program attendees, Daniel, explains how the program has immensely helped his transition to Canada after he arrived just a year ago,

“Joining Teach2Learn last year was one of the best things that have happened to me here in Toronto. Leaving your country, your family and friends to pursue your dreams is a difficult step and trying to fit in a culture where you are an ‘outsider’ is tough. However, in the program, I found my Latin-Canadian family, a safe place where I can count on their support at any time.  I feel like this place contributes to the construction of a better society. With the different workshops and the tutoring opportunities that the program offers, I have been able to know more things about this country, connect with its people and visualize the different ways in which you can succeed from your position as a young person. I have been able to improve my English skills and feel more confident using them, helping my community and volunteering in different events and spaces. I’ve also made friends at the program that have made this transition more joyful and smooth. Mondays may seem draining but after each workshop, you are re-charged to face the rest of the week with the greatest energy.”

The program runs on Mondays during the school year at Casa Maiz near Keele and Finch. This year the organization is expanding the program to two times a week with an additional session on Tuesdays at El Centro para Gente de Habla Hispana at Jane and Wilson. Teach2Learn also provides a summer camp for children and tutoring throughout the school year.

To learn more or donate to their programs visit https://www.teach2learn.ca/ or follow them on Instagram and Facebook @teach2learn.to