As Kristina Tchalova of the Cabbagetown Youth Centre (CYC) watched her Drama students take the stage after a summer of rehearsals and preparation, a little anxiety on her part was to be expected.
But Tchalova was not worried about the kids forgetting their lines, or messing up their dance routines. Instead, she was nervous about giving her boss the final receipt for the children’s costumes, which she is in charge of creating.
“It’s a lot … and it’s gonna add up,” Tchalova said, referring to the cost of all the materials needed to make the costumes.
“The challenge for me is to be really creative, while making the most out of very little. We try to save as much money as we can, it’s a free camp, so we have to make ends meet,” she added.
Every summer for the last seven years, the CYC’s performing arts camp puts on a showcase featuring singing, dance, and drama. But as a free camp, they frequently have to scrape together to cover all costs.
Fortunately, Tchalova will not have to worry quite as much in the immediate future, as the CYC was just granted a $100,000 grant from the Universal Youth Foundation to help curb costs.
The CYC was originally established in the early 70’s to provide a much needed beacon of support to youth in Cabbagetown in addition to Regent Park and St.James Town, some of the most neglected and undernourished inner-city communities in Toronto. With some of the highest crime rates in the city, the CYC seeked to provide a positive alternative to the streets for youth living in these communities.
Today, the CYC has expanded into a well known private, not-for-profit organization that serves the community with a multitude of recreational, social, and developmental programs, year-round, with after-school programs and summer programs such as the sports and performing arts camps.
But as the CYC has grown so have the needs of the community, and the Centre sometimes struggles to meet those needs. As a rule of thumb, most of the services at the CYC are free, but the performing arts camp asked for $25 from each parent for costumes and a $7 ticket fee for the showcase.
While this may not seem like much, to some families in Regent Park and St.James Town, some of the poorest neighbourhoods with the highest incidence of single-parent families in Canada, it is not always possible to pay the fees. But despite this, the CYC said they do not turn any away due to financial restraints.
“We try really hard not to exclude kids, so if there is a problem we try to work around it,” Tchalova said. “We’d never want parents to not show up to the show because they couldn’t afford tickets.”
Apart from overhead costs, the CYC has had things happen in the past that have hindered them financially. For example, last summer, the gym was broken into and three stereos that the performing arts camp uses were stolen.
But some, like Christina de la Cruz, senior dance instructor at the performing arts camp, feel that trials and tribulations like this only strengthen the CYC, and the community as a whole.
“We don’t have that much funding, and we don’t have that many resources, so we just have to make do with what we have,” De la Cruz said. “It really helps that a lot of our kids come from places like Regent Park and St.James Town, they understand what it’s like (to struggle financially).”
Douglas Armstrong, treasurer of the Universal Youth Foundation, said that after reviewing the grant application submitted by the CYC, they had no doubt their money was going towards a good cause.
“The stuff they do, mentoring, after-school programs, getting kids off the street, it’s what we really think is the right thing to do,” Armstrong said. “It certainly covered what we’re fundamentally interested in, and that is helping kids in communities where they could use some help.”
And while that $100,000 only covers a part of the CYC’s annual budget, de la Cruz knows that sometimes a little help can go a long way. But even without the financial aid, the CYC is determined, and always has been, to continue supporting the community no matter the cost.
“We’re never going to let money be an issue,” de la Cruz said. “At the end of the day, although the CYC sometimes struggles to make ends meet, we always put the kids first.”