When Glebe Road United launched the Transform Community Café in midtown Toronto last June, it wanted to support youth in its dense, condo-filled area. Now it’s providing community for children and teens, as well as millennials and new immigrants of all ages, even as it struggles to achieve financial sustainability.
The church, working through the non-profit Transform Community Group, received a $225,000 Presbytery grant to set up the café on Yonge Street. Students and teachers in the congregation, as well as local politicians, told them that area youth were struggling with mental health issues and didn’t have a community centre where they could gather. “We decided we needed to do something to address that need,” says Cynthia O’Connell, then Glebe Road’s minister and still a Transform board member. “And we had to go where they are.”
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Transform signed a five-year lease and opened its homey 20-seat café, complete with a basement rec room equipped with drums and art supplies. The board hoped to offset costs by selling nutritious, ethically sourced food at low prices, but the café’s staff is now expanding its catering to local churches and businesses and looking for grants. It also launched a GoFundMe campaign and held a December fundraiser.
“We have [free] programs open to everybody, but our focus is youth,” says Farah Azad, the café’s general manager. “Our music, art, creative writing and other programs help to teach kids life skills and give them a sense of purpose and belonging that’s missing in their life.” There’s also yoga, meditation, boxing, Afro-dance, open mic nights, an art gallery and comedy shows.
Tanysia Sutherland, 17, is doing the café’s barista training program for her high school co-op placement. She’s helping staff attract more teens by planning programs, such as makeup and hair classes. “I like the energy that everyone has here,” she says. “I’m recommending that my friends come.”
This article first appeared in Broadview’s March 2020 issue with the title “Church opens café for its community.”
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