When Abena Offeh-Gyimah dreamed of a small business serving the Black Creek community, the first place she turned for support was the TD Community Engagement Centre.
Offeh-Gyimah’s business, Adda Blooms, offers the community native foods from Africa while building ethical relationships with farmers, cooperatives and collectives that enhance food sovereignty. And for her, the support she received from the TD CEC was the key to her success.
On Monday, York University together with the TD Bank Group celebrated a decade of impact at the TD CEC and announced a significant infusion of $1 million to the centre from the TD Bank Group.
Located in the heart of the Black Creek community at Yorkgate Mall, the centre is a satellite office of York University that strives for academic innovation through community building, fosters post-secondary attainment for Black Creek community and seeks collaborative research and partnerships.
“What the TD CEC offers is crucial space,” says Offeh-Gyimah. “Doing things like gathering and holding meetings is a challenge in the community.”
The centre also offers critical resources to the community and “people power,” Offeh-Gyimah notes. “The people at the centre are so knowledgeable and they know the community and they bring a great perspective to the work there,” she says.
Since the TD CEC opened its doors in 2008, it has served nearly 70,000 people from the Black Creek Community and has become a catalyst for breaking barriers and changing stereotypes.
“York University has transformed from community participant, to leader, to a fully-engaged institution in the Black Creek Community,” says York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton.
Talisha Ramsaroop (BA ’14, MA ’17) has seen first-hand how the TD CEC has impacted the community. As a high school student who grew up in the Jane and Finch area, she never saw herself pursuing a post-secondary education.
“Being from this community, you’re linked to the stigma around it,” Ramsaroop says. “When you’re from Jane and Finch, higher education and opportunities aren’t what people think of when they think of you.”
Ramsaroop realized that the public perception and stigma around her community had influenced her as well. “My trajectory was just to finish high school,” she says. “I was an absentee student at the time.”
Ramsaroop’s first exposure to York University was through the ACE Program, where for the first time she saw herself as part of the campus. She enrolled at York and committed her career to inspiring local youth to pursue a post-secondary education.
Today, Ramsaroop is a community project coordinator at the TD CEC and connects with local high school students to empower them to pursue their dreams.
“As part of our commitment to access and connection, we have brought together community, university and civic partners in a spirit of inclusion and empowerment,” says Lenton. “We couldn’t have done it without the TD Bank Group and look forward to the next 10 years of breaking down barriers through university-community-private sector partnerships.”
TD Bank Group’s new contribution recognizes the accomplishments of the TD CEC in the Black Creek Community and supports a new approach focusing on career exploration and bridging programs through training and reskilling.
The generous contribution was made through the TD Bank Group’s corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment, which is targeting $1 billion towards community giving by 2030 in four key areas, including financial security. This new commitment will support residents’ shift from precarious work to promising career opportunities.
“The skills needed for jobs today are vastly different than five years ago,” says TD Bank Group Head, Customer and Colleague Experience and York alumna Norie Campbell (LLB ’95, LLM ’03). “It is critical that there are resources and places where individuals can seek assistance to learn and upskill to thrive in the economy. I’m so proud of the work that the TD CEC is doing – offering programs and leadership to ensure that in-career workers can feel confident about their future.”
As manager of the TD CEC, Byron Gray is excited about what the future holds for the centre and for the Black Creek Community. “With this new funding commitment from the TD Bank Group, we will have the resources that we need for the upskilling and reskilling of workers,” Gray says.
Gray’s vision for the TD CEC is to provide an incubator-style program catering to small business owners and entrepreneurs. “We get a lot of requests for this type of program, but we never had the capacity to provide it,” he says. “We want to provide specific training for potential or current entrepreneurs to have small business or just an idea for a small business and give them skill sets they need to be successful.”
In a difficult market such as this, these programs are essential, adds Gray.
With the TD Bank Group’s infusion of funds to the TD CEC, entrepreneurial success stories like Offeh-Gyimah’s may be more common in the Black Creek Community. And the TD CEC will be right in the heart of it all.