Malton Youth Hub ‘designed by youth for youth,’ signals new opportunities for historically underserved community
Tuesday’s official opening of a new centre in Malton offers previously neglected opportunities to the Mississauga neighbourhood’s youth, who have historically lacked the services, amenities and features young people across other parts of the city enjoy.
The City of Mississauga has converted the former Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School pool in Malton into an 18,000-square-foot "Community Hub" that provides services and programs that meet the needs of local youth. Featuring a commercial kitchen, music recording studio, youth-dedicated space, multi-purpose rooms, and an open atrium, the centre acts as a “one-stop-shop” for youth aged 12 to 25 to provide a variety of programming. The remaining spaces in the hub are accompanied by dedicated space for anchor partners to offer integrated programs and services geared toward youth.
“Our guiding principle is for youth by youth,” Pat McNaughton, manager of the facility told The Pointer. “And we're not just saying it, we're demonstrating it and we're doing it.”
Kristina Zietsma, the City’s director of recreation and culture, said the opportunity for the hub, which is also supported by the Region of Peel, arose through direction from City Council after a 2016 staff report identified the need in the community for a dedicated space for youth. The total project cost for the Malton Youth Hub came in at $12.6 million, which was funded with $6 million in capital spending from the Region of Peel, $1.3 million from fundraising, and the balance from the City of Mississauga, a City spokesperson explained. Operational costs for the Malton Youth Hub will be supported through the City’s operational budget.
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who represents Malton, pushed for the youth centre and led much of the fundraising to get it done, credits those who were determined to see the vision through.
“The truly inspired staff of Anna Cascioli, Michael Ferreira, Raj Sheth and Pat McNaughton were a dream team. Every detail in the hub was vetted through the Youth Board of Directors. Incredible team work!
“Also, the private sector donors as well as the City and Regional funding invested in this infrastructure and programming will make lives so much better for the youth living in Malton.”
Youth in Malton have historically been underserved by both private sector investments and publicly funded services and features common in many other parts of the city, a reality that was reflected in the 2016 MyMalton Community Vision Report, which revealed 90 percent of community agencies serving Malton reported a considerable proportion of youth have difficulty accessing health and community services. Services, according to the study, either did not exist or “there was insufficient designated, safe and accessible space to offer programs and services.” Malton’s youth described limited entertainment, shopping, or other leisure activities within the neighbourhood, forcing them to travel to other parts of Mississauga or nearby municipalities.
“Residents expressed that Malton does not have a space dedicated to youth, or sufficient programs in the areas of athletics, visual and performing arts, or leadership development,” the 2016 MyMalton Community Vision noted. “Residents also felt local job opportunities for youth are lacking, forcing young workers to leave the community to obtain employment elsewhere.”
As Malton evolved, the infrastructure and services woven throughout the community remained stagnant. Hemmed in by Highway 427, Pearson Airport, and the industrial lands to the north along its borders with Brampton, Malton has historically been separated from the rest of Mississauga and its services, the isolation inhibiting physical and social connection with other communities across the city, while access to amenities and social settings many youth take for granted has been limited.
The City of Mississauga has converted the former Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School pool in Malton into an 18,000 square foot Community Hub catered to youth.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Sitting down with the Youth Hub’s Advisory Board members, Jasmin Smith, Katharina Andilab, Kulveer Saini, Sara Stafford, Deleshia Francis, Cristina Verdoliva and Paris Gittens told The Pointer how crucial it was when developing the centre to see youth and the diversity of Malton reflected in the space.
Stafford said that seeing the Board’s work in deciding how the space would be utilized and now being able to see youth come in and use the facility is very rewarding, adding “they actually appreciate the space because they know it's dedicated for them by youth.”
“I think it's super inspiring just to see our vision come to light,” Verdoliva added. “And I think it's also inspiring to know when you advocate for something, and you collaborate with people, and you stay true to it, it will happen.”
“And I think that's what's really beautiful about the Youth Hub,” she said. “It's been two years now since we've been meeting and collaborating about this space and to actually see it come to life is very beautiful and inspiring for Malton youth. Especially most of us being Malton youth to be a part of something so inspiring is really beautiful.”
Smith said while she was awarded opportunities for academic programs throughout her school career, she had to go outside of Malton for them. For her, it was important for Malton youth to have somewhere they could be completely supported and have the opportunity to access services they would otherwise have to go outside of the community for.
“I think it's really nice not only for us to see our plans all come together, but I also think a lot of youth-centered spaces say things like your voice matters but it's not so much in practice,” Smith pointed out. “But the Youth Hub being built is proof that your voice matters. I think it's also really good for the Malton youth to see that we all came together and our input was actually used to build the space.”
Over the years living in Malton, Sara Stafford said she noticed with the community around her being a relatively low-income area — the 2016 census showed on average 21.6 percent of the population in Malton experience low income, which is substantially higher than the population in Mississauga at 14.7 percent — there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for incoming generations and the youth were starting to get restless. She would often volunteer at events at the Community Centre and once she started to participate and get more involved she noticed there was a desperate necessity for a creative space for youth to express themselves.
“A lot of people have a lot of emotions bottled in. I use music as a way to express myself and I noticed that a lot of my peers needed a space like that, so I thought my voice would be able to contribute and help them,” Stafford explained.
When she began expressing her interest in music, Stafford said she would have to travel far for her studio co-op which came with other challenges, but now having a space with state-of-the-art equipment locally where there are people and supports to help youth development and hone their skills she says is “amazing for them.”
Malton Youth Hub’s Advisory Committee from left: Kulveer Saini, Katharina Andilab,Deleshia Francis, Jasmin Smith, Sara Stafford, Cristina Verdoliva and Paris Gittens. Not pictured: Amara Levy.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
During stakeholder interviews and community visioning sessions in 2015, a common message that was expressed was the importance of developing opportunities for local youth. McNaughton, the facility manager, noted all of the findings were in alignment to say a youth hub was an important space Malton needed, highlighting a gap in services in the community. She added it wasn’t so much that there was a gap in a community centre in Malton, but more so a gap in the coordination of services and “having a space for youth to be themselves and feel valued and be heard and knowing that that support system is there, that mentorship is there.”
“I feel like it's just such a big door opener, and it just allows you so much access to resources that we literally didn't even know we had,” Paris Gittens said, adding that even just being invited to youth advisory meetings provided her with so much experience and networking. “I hope now that it's open, other kids can go and find those doors and open new pathways and things that they want to do to help them figure out their future.”
A 2018 Malton Neighbourhood Community Data Summary Report noted while the Malton Community Centre is well utilized, “there is limited capacity for additional programming.” Although the Community Centre offers a series of programs and services through various organizations, community agencies reported only 20 percent of youth social services program providers have offices in Malton, meaning services continued to be inaccessible for youth.
“Malton youth especially are filled with so many talented individuals and I think this space is really going to allow them to like embrace those talents and have a space where they can practice those talents safely,” Cristina Verdoliva, one of the Youth Advisory Board members, told The Pointer. “I think for a long time Malton youth didn't have anywhere that they could go that felt like it was theirs and embrace these talents, compared to other communities that had so many facilities for them to participate in.”
“This Malton Youth Hub is so important, not only to us as the community, but for these kids because they definitely deserve it and they've been deserving it for a long time.”
Through several community discussions and consultations, the 2018 report identified the need for a community hub in Malton, noting that, “Over the past decade, the residents and stakeholders of Malton have identified that additional supports and community space are required to address their needs.”
The report revealed the child-youth population makes up a high proportion of the community with 26 percent of the population under the age of 19. In the rest of Mississauga, only 24 percent of the population is within this age range. A subsequent Malton United Youth Collective Impact Project case study indicated that although youth make up a majority of the community, 28 percent of youth are not involved in any extra-curricular activities.
The 18,000 square foot facility features a commercial kitchen, music recording studio, several youth-dedicated spaces, multi-purpose rooms and an open atrium for youth to utilize.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Growing up in Malton, Katharina Andilab says she has always been involved in the community, helping out with various events and even starting a youth group at the Malton Community Centre in 2016, where she witnessed firsthand how much youth involvement was needed in the area.
“I saw how there wasn't that much space for us considering how Malton is also very much an older community, but then the youth were starting to volumize,” she told The Pointer. “I found that it was important for my sake to see what the future generations of the younger kids can have in Malton and how their empowerment can grow here in the Youth Hub.”
The 2018 case study cited several barriers to youth participating in activities including lack of close proximity, transportation costs, and lack of age appropriateness. The study also identified that youth may feel uncomfortable when engaging in activities because of gender, skin colour or language. The same study also found 17 percent of youth do not have access to community programs that are of interest to them.
“Other community agencies identify the need for youth services in Malton, and also emphasize the requirement to ensure programs and services are culturally appropriate, and reflect the needs of youth in the community,” the report stated. It noted the proportion of Malton’s visible minority population was 82.5 percent, which is considerably higher than the rest of Mississauga, which sat at 57.2 percent.
“Our Youth Advisory Board is so diverse the way Malton is diverse, so every group that is in Malton was represented, which is why we feel like everybody that's coming from Malton and comes into the space sees a part of themselves here,” Deleshia Francis said. “It’s very exciting and it's very emotional to see everybody has a space here. And as you walk in, you feel it, you see it, you sense it.”
“On the advisory board we all have different tastes, different interests and to see all of that incorporated in the centre… is an amazing thing because everyone in Malton is different. So everyone can come here and see at least something that they're interested in [and] see a part of them in the centre,” Stafford added.
Youth Advisory Board member Cristina Verdoliva (top) standing in one of the hub’s anchor partner spaces. Board member Paris Gittens (bottom) in the centre’s commercial kitchen space.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
McNaughton told The Pointer she knew the hub was going to bring in a lot of youth, but what she didn’t anticipate was having so many so quickly. As of mid-November, close to 1,000 youth were already registered with the centre.
“This is a dream come true for any community, not just Malton, but any community. It's a dream come true for all youth. It’s a one-stop shop and once you walk through those doors, whatever the services, whatever your needs are, I'm going to go on a limb and say it will be met,” she said. “We have amazing youth who are teaching each other how to function in the space and to take ownership of your space. So it's going to fill many gaps, and many gaps are being filled.”
Growing up, Francis was a relatively quiet individual, something she says she sometimes still reverts back into, but what brought her out of her shell was meeting with people, making friends and having a sense of community everywhere.
“That came through sports and volunteering and participating in other activities like school and things like that,” she explained. “So when the youth hub was in the works, and we started planning, I realized that it would actually be a space where everybody will get to meet together [and] collaborate, judgment-free. You could speak your mind on what was needed, what you wanted and there was a possibility for it to actually happen.”
“So for me being a part of this group to help other quiet kids out there or kids that don't know exactly how to interact, they don't know what's out there for them just because they’re a little bit shy and reserved, was really important.”
Youth Board members Katharina Andilab (top) and Sara Stafford (bottom) enjoy the centre’s recording studio space.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
When the advisory board was first brought in to see the facility while it was under renovation Francis said the space they walked in on was so far from what it is now, it was nearly impossible to envision the final product. Beams were splayed everywhere, and mounds of dirt coated the floor as they paraded through, minding their step as they wandered through the facility previously home to an indoor pool.
“So actually coming here and seeing everything come to life and everything that we had a say in… it's so exciting.”
“Just from the start to the finish seeing it when it was just an empty building and then now it's full of youth, it's just remarkable to see,” Andilab added. “The energy and the place, it's positive, it's inclusive, it's safe.”
McNaughton said the next stage is to have consistency to ensure the sustainability of the program which she hopes will last for generations as the Hub gains momentum. She noted the centre is moving to the next step of introducing new programming in the new year, and then continuing to build from there, adding “when you're working with youth, youth are always evolving. It's never-ending, it's ongoing, and you get better and better and better.”
“It will be sustainable and it will last for a long time because we have the perfect foundation. And the foundation that we have are youth who are involved, and youth who have felt heard. If they send that message to their peers, we can only build on that.”
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