For over 100 years the St. Christopher House (and now West Neighbourhood House) has played an important role in lives of thousands of people in the west end of Toronto. Building community through the development of harmonious relationships and the promotion of personal growth and self-confidence in people are the primary focus for the House.
We are proud of our history as a social innovator and mobilizing force in our community. Our ability to engage the community to find solutions to the current social problems of homelessness, youth unemployment, social isolation and challenges of an aging population make West Neighbourhood House as relevant today as when it was founded in 1912 as St. Christopher House.
Beyond the energy needed to provide the broad range of educational, career, transition, social and language services already available through the House, community development takes vision, time, money and commitment. Community development is the lifeblood of the House. Flowing from successful programs, this work takes us into the future by identifying issues and creating the solutions that can change the lives of those who live in this community.
Community development usually starts with good programs such as those pioneered at the House. When we first opened our doors, we followed the settlement house model where staff actually lived in residence in poor neighbourhoods. These social pioneers learned first hand about the problems facing their neighbours and joined them in seeking solutions.
In the early years, the workers and volunteers of the House quickly realized that poverty, squalid living conditions, poor health, illiteracy and discrimination were barriers to people achieving full participation in their community. For this reason, the initial projects of the House were aimed at removing these barriers. Volunteers, participants and staff worked together to develop solutions and in doing so enhanced each other’s personal growth and fostered a sense of common purpose and mutual understanding.
From the beginning, participants in the House’s programs have been given a “hand up” rather than a “hand out”.
This effective approach has resulted in the creation of numerous programs including:
- -Music School
- -summer camps
- -child care and parent support
- -Meals on Wheels
- -employment counselling
- -adult literacy programs
West Neighbourhood House programs have time and again met the immediate needs of people and become community-based models for new social policy, including publicly-funded social services.
Like the diversity of its programs, community development work at West Neighbourhood House takes many forms and has been equally successful in creating long-term change that benefits the whole community.
Recent examples include:
- establishing internet access and training for people of all ages who wish to improve their skills and “get connected” to the world community;
- activities that allow homeless people a way to earn money and re-engage in society;
- collaboration with the federal government to make sure that low income seniors receive federal subsidies they are entitled to;
- bridge building across diverse cultural groups with innovative public education techniques such as theatre
- facilitating the creation of new ideas to ensure low-cost access to financial services for low-income people