One resident’s mission to help kids excel in Mornelle

One resident’s mission to help kids excel in Mornelle

October 17, 2016

 
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Every morning, the kids at Mornelle summer camp start off their day by singing the words to "Lean on Me."

There's nothing quite like watching 80 bright, happy voices belting out the words, clapping their hands to the beat, and laughing with friends.

The song holds a special meaning for the residents at Mornelle Court, serving as a simple lesson on the importance of friendship, the value of community and the need to help each other out, in goods times and bad.

But these are more than just words for one resident. For Angela Brackett, it's the philosophy with which she lives her life.

Angela has spent the last eight years helping make Mornelle Court a community where children and families feel safe, secure and loved.

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Angela poses with kids from the Mornelle summer camp.

She wears many hats - role model, teacher, mentor, friend, family, neighbour – but the common thread among all of them is her passion for her community.

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Turning tragedy to triumph


Back in 2008, Mornelle was the scene of a fatal shooting that took the life of a 17-year-old young man. Angela says the shooting really impacted the community's sense of security.

"Our kids and families did not feel safe. Many students and parents would be harassed or threatened, there were instances of thefts and robberies. We needed to find a way to address these concerns," she said.

This inspired Angela to take action.

"We came together and decided we were going to take our community back," Angela explained. "We formed a coalition and began holding weekly meetings in my living room. We invited the Toronto District School Board, the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, Councillor Paul Ainslie and Toronto Parks and Recreation."

The group also met with staff from Toronto Community Housing who connected them to the City of Toronto's Community Crisis Response Program.

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Kids sit near the Mornelle playground.

After several meetings, Angela and her coalition pitched the idea of a SafeWalk program, a community-led initiative where residents, parents and police officers from local 43 Division would walk kids to and from school every day.

The program, which began in 2008, started with about 20 kids and has grown to include over 80 children from across Mornelle.

"We all meet at the same spot, every morning at eight, rain or shine," Angela explains. "We have a great group of volunteers, parents and students who show up no matter what, even if they are sick or running late, they make it a point to show up and help walk our kids to school. Everyone pitches in."

Many say the success of the program stems from Angela's passion for the community.

"She is just so dedicated and committed," says Chanti Chand, a local resident whose daughter takes part in the SafeWalk program.

"I don't trust anyone else with my daughter besides Angela. She is up early in the morning with a smile on, ready to walk these kids to school. If there are people that might have to leave for work a little earlier, she takes their kids earlier. And she does it all again the afternoon," she says.

Angela says the program has had a massive impact on the students, both inside and outside the classroom.

"We've received letters from the local school principal stating that since we started the program, more kids are coming to school, they're reaching school on time, and their grades are skyrocketing," she says.

Police officer Randall Arsenault from 43 Division has taken part in the SafeWalk program for the past five years. He says the program is a perfect example of how communities can come together to support one another.

"This is a true partnership. I really enjoy walking the kids to school, you share stories with them along the way, you bond with them, and share little updates on what's going on in their life," he says.​

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Left: Angela and Officer Arsenault with kids from the Mornelle SafeWalk program. [Image: Randall Arsenault]​
Right: Officer Arsenault hangs out at the annual Mornelle summer BBQ.

Arsenault credits Angela for helping build a stronger bond between residents and the police.

"I consider Angela my partner. She's more than just a community member, she is my partner and a huge partner with Toronto Police. She has the respect of all of our members," he says.​

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Officer Randall Arsenault shares a picture with Angela at the annual Mornelle summer BBQ.

Blossom Wynter, a community leader who has supported the program since its inception, says the SafeWalk program has transformed the community for the better.

"We used to have a community that when the police came here, it was like a war," she said. "Residents didn't want to see or interact with the police, there was a lot of hostility and uneasiness around officers."

"It's not like that anymore, the police make an effort to be a part of the community, to speak with residents, to laugh and play with the kids. They are now a part of our family and we feel more comfortable together. Can you imagine that? To see how much our relationship has evolved, it's truly amazing," said Blossom.


A new beginning for Mornelle


Following the success of the SafeWalk program, Angela and her team saw more opportunities to help support parents and families in the community.

In 2010, they started a homework club for students.

"At the beginning, we were working out of an empty classroom at the local school. We eventually had to move locations because there was such a high demand for the program and we didn't have enough desks for the students,"

The program now runs out of the recreation room at 90 Mornelle.

"We also partnered with the University of Toronto and Frontier College, their students come in and tutor the kids as a part of their placement," adds Angela.

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Kids from the Mornelle summer camp enjoy a fun-filled day at the annual community BBQ in July.

Around the same time the homework club got off the ground, Angela had the idea to create a summer camp for kids.

"We saw that a lot of the kids had nothing to do during the summer break and many of the parents were struggling to find babysitters and daycare to take care of their kids while they were at work," she explained.

Angela and a team of more than 30 volunteers help organize the camp every July.

"Kids have a chance to learn, they do arts and crafts, they get snacks, we go on field trips – it's a fun, safe place for kids to enjoy the summer with their friends," she explains.

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Kids from the Mornelle summer camp enjoy a fun-filled day at the annual community BBQ in July.

Angela says the feedback from the residents has been tremendous.

"We receive wonderful letters from parents thanking us for this space and the help that they get. They are just so grateful for the help," she says.

Councillor Paul Ainslie, who has helped support various programs at Mornelle for several years, says he can see the impact the summer camp has had on the community.

"Seeing these kids, they're engaged, they're happy, they feel safe. They're kids being kids and I think that's really important. If people like Angela weren't here running this day camp, free of charge, out of their own volition, these kids would have nothing to do. It's all about residents coming together to help make this community stronger and I'm here to help support them to make this community a better place to live," he said.


Leading by example


For Mark Guirguis, a volunteer at the Mornelle summer camp, Angela's passion for her community is inspiring.

"She is so giving and caring, she gives her full love to everyone. She understands this community, she knows all the families, she knows every person by name. Everyone really respects Angela and appreciates all that she is doing for the community," he said.

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Volunteers pose with Angela in the Mornelle playground.

For Angela, the purpose behind all her work is to help build a happy, vibrant community.

"I do this so I can see the smiles on these kids' faces. To see the way they hug each other when they see greet one another, the way they light up when they're with friends, to hear them say 'I love you.'"

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Kids from the Mornelle summer camp enjoy a fun-filled day at the annual community BBQ in July.

She says her work is a true labour of love.

"I believe this is what I've been called to do. I've never had any formal training in this, I haven't gone to school for social work. Everything I do, I do from my heart. I don't know any other way," she says.

"Every morning we sing our theme song 'Lean on Me' and we sing that song as way to teach our kids that we are family, that we're here for each other and we have to love and take care of each other."