The St. Alban's Boys and Girls Club celebrated the opening of its new facility on Grandravine Drive Thursday, a short walk from the spots where Kwame Duodu, O'She Doyles-Whyte and Tahj Loor-Walters were killed this summer and St. Aubyn Rodney lost his life last February.
Continuing its efforts to engage youth and provide a safe space to socialize, St. Alban's Club unveiled its larger Jane and Finch youth centre with help from some home-grown celebrities.
"The Boys and Girls Club played a huge part in my success," said Anthony Bennett, the NBA's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013, who grew up around the corner. "Seeing [the club] expanding, reaching out to the kids, is just real heart-warming."
Mr. Bennett was joined at the event by recording artist Jully Black, who also went to school at Jane and Finch, and Hall of Famer and former Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar.
Until now, the club operated at full capacity with about 200 members – though not all at once – in a three-room Toronto Community Housing unit, limiting hours and turning away youth as it struggled to run its various tutoring, leadership and daycare programs, St. Alban's executive director Chris Foster said.
Renovations for the new, 2,700-square-foot facility began eight years ago after TCH offered up an unused garage on Grandravine Drive, near Driftwood Avenue. The new facility will allow the club to accommodate existing activities and begin planning for expansion. "Now we're going to be able to run youth programs basically all day," Mr. Foster said.
The brightly painted centre features a dance studio, computer lab, recording studio, weight equipment and a lounge. The $1.3-million project was completed with donations from several organizations including Youth Challenge Fund, the Jays Care Foundation of the Toronto Blue Jays, and St. Alban's own board of directors.
Local Councillor Anthony Perruzza attended the grand opening and pointed toward a youth survey passed to city council Wednesday that showed young people identified a place to "hang out" as the most important factor in making community centres youth-friendly.
"We're ahead of the curve," Mr. Perruzza said.
Ivana Twumasi, who has been visiting the club for seven years, said the youth came together this summer to deal with the recent tragedies. "It helped me a lot to know how to block negative things that are going on in the community and learn from what's happened and stay safe," the 13-year-old said.