Youth Winning Youth: Enriching Weston

Youth Winning Youth (YWY) is a flourishing organization, with roots in Trinidad that is making a big impact in Toronto’s Weston neighbourhood. Operating at a grassroots level, YWY conducts community outreach programs in hubs like local malls, churches and affiliates like the Frontlines Toronto and Weston King Neighbourhood Centre.

A new Second Harvest recipient agency, YWY is staffed entirely by volunteers, with Mellina Orr at its helm. This energetic part-time child and youth worker founded YWY in 2009 with a mission to inspire and empower youth to become future mentors through active community engagement and dynamic programming.

In the past seven years, YWY has continued to grow and expand their services and programs offered. In 2014, YWY began offering a steel drum class and mentoring program for seven youth who had experienced trauma. Over the course of a couple years, Mellina began to notice progress in the youths’ behaviour as they began to work through personal challenges. Using an organic approach and a family-centric model, YWY uses music for creative expression, stress relief and relationship-building, building self-confidence and leadership skills.

Mellina  also decided to organize a back-to-school drive in the fall of 2014, after working on a successful project in Trinidad to provide clothing and supplies to those in need. After securing the support of a dozen sponsors, her team prepared over 100 packages for marginalized community members, complete with groceries, clothing, backpacks and other back-to-school supplies.

Since then, YWY has expanded its programming to focus on the whole family and focuses its work in Weston, a low-income neighbourhood in northwest Toronto with a reputation for high crime, as well as Kelle and Rogers Rd and Jane and Finch. One of YWY’s greatest strengths is identifying needs within the community. Hidden poverty is often not addressed but Mellina’s passionate outreach identifies these individuals and is able to offer support.

With weekly Second Harvest deliveries, YWY now receives fresh, nutritious food which Mellina and her team of volunteers sort into food hampers, along with additional food donations from local retailers. Her resourcefulness knows no bounds: she also receives donations of empty boxes from a local retailer for her food hampers as well as used bed linens from a hotel in the neighbourhood.

Every Monday, YWY personally delivers 5-10 boxes of food to families in the community, tailoring each kit to the family’s needs. Michael McLaughlin is one such recipient. After meeting her in the neighbourhood, Mellina learned about his challenges as a single father to two twin boys with a permanent injury preventing him from working.  Recently, she began to deliver a food hamper to him each Monday, replete with school snacks for his kids and other much-needed essentials. A previous food bank client, he is now able to provide healthier, nutritious food for his family.

Mellina’s passion for enriching the community is driving several new projects forward: a recent winter clothing drive and a toy drive drew crowds lined up around the block, highlighting the need that is often not visible to the eye in this eclectic, historic neighbourhood.

Currently, YWY provides food hampers for 15 families, a number that is growing monthly. Securing more funding for a permanent space is the next step, which will enable YWY to re-introduce its music program as well facilitate a homework club and a home base for hamper pick-ups.

The future is bright as residents of the Weston neighbourhood continue to benefit from the growing support of this burgeoning community pillar.