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Amber Kellen, director (left) and Whanny Mymuller, assistant co-ordinator of urban health and homelessness services, at The Neighbourhood Group.Provided

Whanny Mymuller came from poverty-stricken Ethiopia to a poverty-stricken Toronto neighbourhood when he was seven. Though troubles with substance use kept him on the fringe, he found shelter, mental health support and crisis counselling at The Neighbourhood Group Community Services.

“Coming to The Neighbourhood Group was my absolute lifesaver,” says Mymuller, now employed with the organization as an assistant co-ordinator, urban health and homelessness services. The Neighbourhood Group, headquartered in Toronto, serves the city with 33 centres plus many other services.

“We let people know this is a welcoming place where they can be themselves and where they can have their needs met,” says Bill Sinclair, president and CEO. “So it’s very important we’re open and transparent. Our doors are unlocked.”

The non-profit organization provides home care; child care centres for 1,500 children; 438 units of affordable, supportive housing; five youth centres; two employment centres and newcomer and ESL classes, along with community health and homelessness services.

“One in 20 home visits for seniors being cared for in their homes are delivered by The Neighbourhood Group in the city of Toronto,” Sinclair says. “We help 47,000 people that we see every year and probably thousands of people we see every day.”

Mymuller started volunteering in one of the kitchens, contributing 1,000 hours of his time. Then he became a peer worker where his lived experience allowed him to help others.

“Something was left with me which was an overwhelming urge to be part of this community, to be engaged in the allocation of nutrition. This was a beautiful thing to me,” says Mymuller.

Sinclair says it’s the workers and volunteers who built a caring, inclusive and collaborative workplace.

“We work with our neighbours and we’re part of our community. Our community isn’t successful unless everybody is successful,” says Sinclair. “It’s people who make the difference. People from the community make an enormous difference.”

Sinclair stresses the organization wants to find good jobs and good housing for everyone, because a good neighbourhood takes care of its seniors, children, youth and people who are homeless.

“These are what make successful Toronto neighbourhoods. And that’s what our mission is all about,” he says. “We also have a focus on hiring participants themselves to help us do this work.”

Training and mentoring opportunities are also available for employees, volunteers and students on placement. Mymuller is an ideal example. He took peer support worker training and then was hired by The Neighbourhood Group as assistant co-ordinator for the harm reduction-based Crystal Meth Project.

“I remember the day and time I was hired and it literally made me cry,” Mymuller says. “Some of my co-workers became my tutors and supported me in my early stages but now I say I get mentored every day.”

The Neighbourhood Group has an equity, diversity and inclusion committee along with working groups. These are vital to newcomers, as well as those experiencing homelessness, troubles in school or disabilities.

“We draw many of our trainees, volunteers and employees from our community and they are highly multicultural and racially diverse,” Sinclair says. “So the result is we have lots of support for people who have different abilities or different languages or life experiences.”

The Neighbourhood Group is seen as a leader in the city, a progressive organization fighting for systemic change and better communities, and battling against racism, discrimination and poverty, Sinclair says.

“We need to have things like employment standards and affordable housing and rent control for everyone,” he says. “So we’re known for advocating and speaking out.

“It’s amazing the assets and skills and the knowledge our participants bring.”

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