Members, staff, volunteers and supporters catalysts of change for countless lives at PARC
By Erin Hatfield , Published: April 07, 2015
Ruth Quick, Zephie James, Hume Cronyn, Bob Rose, Pat Capponi, Victor Willis, Heinz Klien, Debbie Chambers — the list of legends at the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) goes on.
At PARC – a downtown west end community organization and drop-in centre that works with its members on issues of poverty, mental health, addictions, homelessness and food security – it is the members, staff, volunteers and supporters who have been the catalysts of change for countless lives in the organization’s 35-year history.
On March 31, PARC marked its 35-year anniversary with a celebration of these legends — past, present and future.
“The stories we tell and the stories we remember are really what make PARC a remarkable place,” said Willis, who started working at PARC as a relief worker in 1989 and became the Executive Director in 1999. “It is the amazing staff, volunteers, members and board members that make this place what it is.”
PARC was started 35 years ago by a group of neighbours who were concerned about the closure of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, which officially closed in 1979. A lot of former patients settled in Parkdale.
PARC was born out of the spirit that people with mental health struggles can help each other; its mission to be, “A community where people rebuild their lives.”
Willis explained they realized early on in PARC’s story they needed to create the capacity and opportunity for members to advocate for themselves.
“In the mental health community a lot of the members are encouraged not to be outspoken, but we have always understood that people need to be able to say what is on their mind,” Willis said.
Eugene Hennie, a member since 2011, said that is exactly what PARC has done for him.
“At that time I was a destroyed human being, broken,” he said. “Through mental health and addictions issues I had reached the bottom of the barrel and I really didn’t have a way out.”
Hennie said he ended up coming to PARC one day when he was hungry and in need of a meal.
“They probably wish they hadn’t fed me because they have been feeding me for four years now,” Hennie joked. “But, it was through the programs here that I was able to build my self esteem.”
PARC’s Ambassador program, Coop Credit program, Peer Support Program, music, art, sports and its focus on employing people with lived experience, help members begin to believe in themselves again, Hennie said.
“What we have here is really transforming peoples’ lives,” Hennie said.
Ann Lapenna-Slade, a longtime member of PARC and a PARC Ambassador, explained her job as an ambassador is to go out in the community and talk to people about mental health and to encourage the community to engage with PARC.
“We want the whole of the Parkdale community in here and us to be out there mingling,” Lapenna-Slade said. “If we can do that we will get more food, clothing and other things. If we can do that then we will be happy.”
An art installation by Making Room Community Arts displayed the names and stories of PARC members, staff and volunteers.
As successful as PARC has been in giving a voice to its members, Willis said, even after 35 years, there is still work to be done.
“There is a larger group out there who don’t understand the pressures and the lives, experience and existence of the folks who come to PARC,” Willis said. “So the legends and the stories and the voices who say what needs to be said, we need more voices and we need to keep saying it because they haven’t heard us yet.”
To that end, PARC just received a $30,000 Vital Ideas Grant for its Peer Outreach Program. The grant will be used to create a professional video and promotional material to talk about why that program and PARC is important. Willis said the goal is to create more opportunities for members to work and advocate for themselves.
“The long-term goal is that a member will be in my seat some day,” Willis said.
This article is taken from InsideToronto