In a large, open space building in St. James Town, large plywood boards display photographs of buildings, flowers, dogs and people. At the back of the room, graffiti art projects onto the wall, and on a couple of Macs, 2-D animation videos play in loops.
It’s show and tell for U for Change, an arts and community development program for teens and young adults in the neighbourhood — one of the city’s poorest. The educational initiative is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (the area is also one of the city’s most diverse) and is in the second year of a three-year pilot project.
Cleyon Jarvis tells me about the video documentary he’s working on for the program. It’s about the fire at 200 Wellesley St. E. in September, which kept hundreds of residents out of their homes for a month.
“I always wanted to direct movies,” he says, “but I didn’t know how to get there.”
He tells me he was that kid in high school who would sit at the back of the class. The one with no goals, no ambition. In fact, he spent more time on the street than in the classroom, and at 23 years old he was still trying to graduate from high school.
Then, he talked to a U for Change staff member, who was at his school promoting the program and convinced him to go after his dream.
“Here,” he says, “I’m always in the front, asking questions.” His next step is film school.
Sarah ElRaheb, the organization’s education director, is beaming tonight. She tells me the biggest gift this program gives is confidence.
“When you’re poor — hard up for money, and living in an area that’s rough, it’s easy to fall into things that don’t match up with your potential.”
But this program shows people how much they are capable of.
Keshia Santana St. Louis, 25, shows me her 2-D video. A couple of pencil-sketched men shoot guns at one another until a female villain-like character bombards them with machine-guns. Only hers are armed with peace and turn the fighters into hippies.
St. Louis tells me her goal is to work for Pixar or Dreamworks — “You’ll see my name at the end of movies,” she says.
She’s off to a good start. Along with this program, she studied 3-D animation at Herzing College and is starting an internship at a photography and cinema production company.
All this despite losing access to her home for more than a month — she is a resident of 200 Wellesley St. E. Members of the program helped out with clothes and money for her and three other students from the building, and she was still able to make her deadlines.
– Read more of Carolyn Morris’ columns at www.metronews.ca/carolynmorris