Youth Empowerment in Northwestern Toronto

Weston Park Baptist ChurchWeston Park Baptist Church stands near a busy intersection in one of Toronto’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. The community bustles with activity, but also with a high poverty rate as recent immigrants struggle to find work.

Since the late 1980s, Weston Park Baptist has responded to local needs through the Weston Frontlines Centre (Frontlines), offering at-risk children and youth a safe place to “hang out” away from the streets.

Executive Director Kristy Opoku began her work at Frontlines in 2005. She grew up at Uxbridge Baptist Church northeast of Toronto, but moved into Weston after seeing God at work there and wanting to be part of the action. “This is where God is working; our family wanted to be in the thick of where we saw God at work.”

FrontlinesThroughout the year, Frontlines offers meaningful activity-based programs for youth and children, creating a positive social space within an environment of stability and non-violence. During the summer, the level of activity at Frontlines explodes. There are currently over 150 local children involved in summer programs and camps:

  • Frontburner is a cooking class led by a culinary school graduate that fosters peer mentorship and healthy living. Participants are kids ages 8-13 who regularly prepare their family meals in single parent or working parent households.
  • Strong Man uses fitness to build relationships with young men ages 16-20. Lessons learned in training – about perseverance, commitment and discipline – are applied to practical discussion about how to be good fathers, sons and students. The camaraderie provides stability in these young men’s lives.
  • Youth on the Move is a group-mentored, physical activity program for Middle School youth, which has had a noticeable impact on improving participants’ self-awareness and teamwork skills.
  • The Leaders-in-Training (LIT) program leverages Service Canada grants to provide meaningful work experience for youth just under age 15: a time when jobs are hard to secure. This July, LIT youth have identified and executed “beautification” days in the community, mowing lawns for seniors and tackling overgrown shrubbery around the church. Through acts of kindness they gain valuable initiative, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

In the book of Acts, we see the earliest followers of Jesus caring for the physical needs of their neighbours at the same time they addressed their spiritual needs. A similar pattern continues to unfold at Weston Park Baptist Church and Frontlines. We celebrate the way Frontlines continues to launch innovative programs in response to locally-expressed needs, and seeks to participate in God’s vision for their neighbourhood. May the Lord of Mission give us all eyes to see where he is uniquely at work in our community and the boldness to follow him and renew these places of need.

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