Supporting youth wellbeing in the Rivertowne community

Suzette Saunders has been a fixture in her Rivertowne community for over 15 years

Person standing outside.

Tenant leader Suzette Saunders

Suzette Saunders has been a tenant leader in Rivertowne for over 15 years, moving in just after the revitalization of the community was first completed.

In this time, Suzette has been a fixture in the community, organizing events, providing programs and care for youth and children, and advocating for the needs of her fellow tenants and neighbours. She officially took up the post as a Community Representative with the Tenant Engagement System at Toronto Community Housing in 2021.

When asked what motivates her to give back to her community, she is committed in her response. “I want to help young people through mental health support. During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the recent violence in Rivertowne, they are not just ok. People are not tapping into what’s going on with youth. Since they have been working online for school over the past few years, we are out of touch with what they need, what they are going through.”

Suzette first noticed the need for support with her own daughter, seeing the challenges that the pandemic created for her in terms of isolation, learning and socialization. Rivertowne has also recently experienced several violent incidents which have contributed to the trauma and stress on youth and their wellbeing. Looking to others in the neighbourhood, she saw that many other children were going through the same issues.

Photo of Rivertowne buildings

Rivertowne (formerly Don Mount Court) is located in south Riverdale on the east side of Toronto.

In the past, Suzette has led several grant applications where she was successful in getting funds to deliver and provide programs and support to youth. She recalls an art therapy program that she delivered several years ago which resulted in the completion of a mural inside of 50 Matilda. “It’s rewarding and a great feeling to bring kids together. Often, children don’t want to leave. I love providing them with an opportunity, be it through art, a social program, or other ways to get together and express their feelings.”

This spring, she is working with Sam Maloney-Lee, a Community Services Coordinator at Toronto Community Housing, to apply for funding to support a certification program for youth and adults to build their employment skills.

The program will provide training on food handling, first aid and CPR, and other areas that support job readiness. When asked about working with Suzette, Sam shares that “Suzette has been a long-time leader and advocate in her community, providing and organizing many events and programs. She has strong relationships with everyone from her neighbours, to Toronto Police Service and other service providers in Rivertowne. She has done a phenomenal amount of work and I’m happy to be able to share her story.”

Tenant leader Suzette Saunders standing out front of a building in her rivertowne neighbourhood

Tenant leader Suzette Saunders.

When asked about how she manages to make time for everything alongside a busy work schedule and caring for her daughters, Suzette shares, “Organizing programs and events is really rewarding for me. It’s a good feeling to be able to do this work. I’m busy with my job at the daycare and with raising my daughters, but I try to find time for this on the weekend. It means a lot to me to support our youth.”

Many of the youth and children who attend her programs and activities often want to stay longer, and have returned to various programs and events over the years. This is clearly a testament to Suzette’s work and her ongoing commitment to youth wellbeing in Rivertowne.