author: Janet Davies, Paul Dalby, Tom Cruickshank
Each and every day across the Watershed region, countless volunteers roll up their sleeves and get down to work for their communities. These people are as diverse as their grassroots initiatives – from carpenters to caregivers, film buffs to farmers. Not only do they bring tools, creativity, energy and skills to the table, they also bring passion and compassion.
In this issue, Watershed is proud to highlight but a few of the extraordinary people, programs and projects that are the bedrock upon which our communities are built.
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT the Memorial Community Hall presiding over Warkworth’s Main Street that seems to invite revolutionary ideas. People here still talk affectionately about the time just after the building opened in 1922 in memory of the village’s fallen WW1 soldiers, when a group of feisty citizens hatched a gloriously mad plan. They decided to fire the captured German field gun standing in front of the hall, using gunpowder bought at the hardware store and copies of the local newspaper stuffed into the barrel. The blast shattered several shop windows and a subdued (yet unapologetic) gun crew ponied up for the damage.
Fast forward nine decades, and the hall – used for 70 years as a public library and in more recent times as a Heritage Centre – has once again courted radical thinking. Under its new banner as the Ah! (Arts and Heritage) Gallery, the grand old pile is providing a unique new showcase for art and history wedded together.
The concept was the original brainchild of local architect-artist Clive Russell, who thought arts and history belonged under the same roof in a Confederation-era village like Warkworth, now a municipally-designated arts community.
“In 2011, I was researching the life of J.D. Kelly, who became nationally known for his historical illustrations, and I felt we should commemorate that in some way,” he said. “I thought a gallery dedicated to art and history would create some interesting possibilities, seeing history through the eyes of artists and engaging artists in recording the stories of this particular place.”
Unfortunately, Warkworth had no permanent gallery space, but then fate intervened. In 2013, the Warkworth Memorial Community Hall had just lost its only regular tenant when the village’s historical society disbanded and the building stood empty and little used. The municipality of Trent Hills was poised to close down the intimate space and use it for storage.
Russell’s partner Sheree Rasmussen, a noted textile artist, suggested the vacant Memorial Hall would make an excellent home for a new gallery. “Rather than just coming in and seeing the art on the walls, we wanted a story-telling aspect,” she said.
Russell and Rasmussen knew they needed help to win over Trent Hills to the concept. An impressive team was formed, including local businessman David Pollack and famed costume designer Delphine White.
Trent Hills not only liked the concept, they funded a $20,000 renovation. The hall’s gloomy brown interior has been refreshed with dazzling white walls, new gallery strip lighting and a refurbished wood floor that was uncovered beneath a faded carpet.
Supporters have also formed a non-profit organization to manage its operation with a five-member board drawn from all walks of life. The new gallery has hosted a different exhibition every month, opening on weekends with free admission. The content has been diverse: from the art and jazz music of San Murata to a show celebrating the connection between hand and thought in art, using the costume concepts of Delphine White, with Dorothy Caldwell’s stunning textiles and Dimitri Papatheodorou’s futuristic canvasses.
For its first show, the gallery was lucky enough to procure a priceless handmade quilt made in 1896 for a Warkworth resident’s wedding trousseau, which Ah! borrowed from its permanent home in The Textile Museum of Canada
“The museum sent us a 26-page questionnaire on our security measures and asked if we had armed guards,” laughed textile artist Dr. Skye Morrison, also a volunteer at the gallery. “I told them I had two arms.”
When the refurbished gallery opened to the public this past spring, it used a poster paying homage to those bad boys who fired the cannon in 1922, a nod to the power of thinking outside of the box.
THE SIGN ON BEWDLEY'S ARENA SAYS IT ALL: “Community works”.
The small community on the west end of Rice Lake, and neighbouring villages in Hamilton Township, have breathed new meaning into that slogan.
At nine o’clock every Thursday morning – you could set your watch by it – a formidable army of volunteers sweeps into the arena parking lot, eager to dispense a large measure of kindness to their fellow citizens. Unique in Northumberland County, the Bewdley group runs a store on two floors of the arena that offers everything from clothing and footwear to books and toys. And the price tag is remarkable – everything is free. “None of us get paid but it’s the smiles and thank.yous that keep you going,” says coordinator Donna Hooey. “We’re just neighbours helping neighbours and they really appreciate what we’re doing.”
More than 300 families depend on the store every week for support. As an added bonus, they also receive comfort and a free lunch served up by the endlessly cheerful team of 43 volunteers and 50 at-large helpers who keep the wheels turning at this impressive charitable venture. It will take them all morning to unpack and sort 60 bags of donated clothing, toys, books and footwear. Others will manhandle the boxes and crates of food and produce into the arena.
“We don’t waste much and we try to help as many people as we can,” explained volunteer Kathy Thom. “We do get more clothes than we can handle and we pass those on so somebody else will get the use of them. We shipped at least 100 bags of clothing to Inuit communities up north this year.”
As the day rolls on, more donations pour in. An elderly couple from Campbellford whose house was damaged by fire had so much food donated to them, they have driven here to deliver the “excess”. A farmer’s market stallholder in Port Hope sends along unsold produce. A local woman pops in with a bushel basket of freshly-picked apples.
“It just boggles your mind what people give us,” said Donna, who like most of the volunteers is retired but definitely not ready for a rocking chair. She co-founded Community Works in Hamilton Township (CWHIT) in 2006 with friends. They brought five separate community groups under one roof to launch a new food bank in a room provided by the Bewdley Optimist Club
“I remember those first few weeks when I wondered if we were out of our minds – whether any.one would come. But once we got going, there was no stopping us,” Donna remarked.
Four years later they expanded to a new home at the arena, donated by the township with generous financial support from Ganaraska Credit Union. The clients walking in the door at CWHIT range from school-age children and single moms to the fastest-growing demographic, seniors living alone.
Sitting by the luncheon table ready to offer more tangible financial help is the county’s community outreach worker Marilynne Allday. “The debt loads are killing people, especially seniors. I help any clients that come in and need help. Anyone in crisis can call me,” she explains. “I work with people who don‘t qualify for benefits, the people who fall be.tween the cracks.”
Upstairs two clients searching through the store’s racks for winter coats and boots for their young children are Katie Lockie and Jennifer Murray, both single moms living in low-income housing in Port Hope. “We’d find ourselves eating a lot fewer meals if we had to buy these clothes,” says Jennifer. Her friend Katie agrees: ”It would be hard to manage without something like this. But with this community, it’s easy and it’s very helpful for us.”
TO STEP ONTO PRESQU'ILE'S MARSH BOARDWALK is to enter a world of wind and water, birds and bulrushes. You feel that boardwalk bounce in your step as you stroll through the largest protected marsh on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Reach out to stroke the whispering rushes and they’ll ca.ress you back. There are splashes and plops below your feet as watery things slip by, and birds cry above your head and out over the horizon.
The new boardwalk will never rot or crumble like the old one. It’s made of Trex, and Trex is made of recycled plastic bags and wood waste. It’s environmentally friendly, like the Friends of Presqu’ile who built it.
Founded in 1988, the Friends is a 100 percent volunteer organization with over 230 members working hard to ensure current and future generations can fully share the glories of the Park.
Since its inception, the organization has contributed $5 million in funds and volunteer hours to making the park a freely accessible educational experience. To replace the old wooden boardwalk – built by Warkworth Penitentiary inmates in the 1980s – the Friends raised more than $360,000 and put in 10,000 volunteer hours, some on phones and computers, some in waist-deep, freezing water, cutting through foot-deep ice to lay some of the foundations.
The old walk was declared unsafe and closed in 2005, leaving a gaping hole in the park experience, especially for schoolchildren who had loved it for 25 years. The Friends of Presqu’ile, who regard the park as a living classroom, were not going to let the boardwalk die.
Peter Alker led the fundraising drive starting in early 2007. In less than a year, BBQs, raffles, art and craft shows, donations, grants and corporate support had brought in $100,000 – enough to begin.
Retired construction engineer Bill Wilson led teams of about 40 intrepid volunteers who built, to his design, the sweeping 1.2 kilometre boardwalk
Former Friends chair Ernie Payette says, “It was incredible. They were up to their armpits in hip waders, hauling wood in some miserable weather. Beating down doors to raise money.
”The last nail was driven home May 1, 2009. “We couldn’t work May to August because that’s breeding time,” says Bill. They laboured through winter and a few balmy weeks in spring and autumn. “We had some experts come to advise us,” he says with a straight face and an almost impenetrable Scottish accent. “We listened politely and then carried on.”
Two feet wider than before, the new boardwalk gives boisterous schoolchildren more room to move and is wheelchair-accessible. Each five-foot board weighs 10 lbs, so volunteers hefted about 80,000 lbs for the walkway alone, not counting the viewing towers and teaching zones where kids lie on their bellies and peer into the water or sit at tables to work. The two towers afford glorious 360-degree views, and Peter points out how well built they are. “Over built,” says Bill with a grin. “You could land helicopters on them.”
Just two years after completing the Marsh Boardwalk, the volunteers were at it again, refurbishing Jobes Walk through an old growth forest.
Why a boardwalk through the woods? Although it’s only inches from the ground, it protects the area by subtly persuading you to say on the path. It also keeps your hiking boots out of the vernal pools that form in springtime in the hollows made by fallen trees – perfect for breeding amphibians.
The Friends raised $90,000 this time, and Bill’s crew didn’t have to wade through freezing water. “It was freezing mud instead,” he says, because the tearing out was done in winter. Unlike the marsh, where they meticulously followed the old footprint to obey strict environmental regulations – which incidentally would have forbidden construction today if the boardwalk was not already there – the Jobes forest walk could be extended and changed. When a park official suggested it would be easier and cheaper to build a straight path, Bill was aghast. His boardwalks bend and curve and entice, offering something new round every corner.
If you’ve never walked the boardwalks, treat yourself. The Friends of Presqu’ile are justifiably proud of them, together with the 18 interpretive signs that add so much to a visitor’s park experience, and the wonderful towers where kids can make believe, grown-ups marvel and happy dogs – always on a leash – can see for miles.
“The Friends are basically fundraisers,” says Peter in a howling understatement. “The province looks after the park, but we raise the extra money for education programs and additional visitor experiences.” Priceless ones.
A BUILDING IS MORE THAN JUST BRICKS AND MORTAR. You can never separate the place from the people who have imbued it with their history. It was a lesson learned earlier this year by officials in a quiet corner of Northumberland County, when they tried to close down one hamlet’s historic community centre. They under-estimated the Vernonville residents’ emotional attachment to their pocket-sized centre, built back in 1846 as a one-room schoolhouse.
The pushback came from unexpected quarters. Long-time residents like Doug Deviney, 96, and his wife Paula, 86, who met in 1949 in the community centre – when it was still Vernonville’s school – regard this humble place as a major part of their lives. “We’ve had a lot of good times here. I had my 75th birthday here and we had our 60th wedding anniversary here,” said Doug, seated in the hall a mile from where he was born. “I started school here in 1925. I walked here in bare feet with my lunch in a lard pail.” By the time Paula arrived as the school’s new teacher in 1949, Doug was a local farmer and a school trustee. In a neighbourly gesture, Doug’s mother invited the new teacher for Sunday night supper every weekend.
“So after supper I would take her home to the house she was boarding and we just clicked,” Doug reminisced.
Paula smiles warmly: “All those years, the community centre in Vernonville has been the centre of life here. We had harvest meals, potlucks and a Christmas concert every year. Lots of people would come here for their family reunions.”
The school closed in 1961 under amalgamation, but the Deviney’s youngest daughter Laurie still savours her memories of the centre – from the first play she saw staged there as a child when bed sheets doubled as curtains, to the summer bible camps she later helped organize as an adult. “The centre is part of this village and you don’t just want to put up a parking lot there or sell it,” says Laurie, who helped lobby for its reprieve.
It was precisely that kind of stubborn loyalty to the venerable building that saved the day
“It was pretty much black and white to me that this building would be one of the cutbacks if we didn’t start supporting it,” said Melissa Holmes, co-owner of the village’s general store.
The spark that ultimately lit a fire under local residents was their discovery that not only was there a real possibility that the centre would close, but the $15,000 they had just raised for new playground equipment could be diverted to the Grafton Community Centre
When the Alnwick/Haldimand township councillors convened a town hall meeting to discuss the centre’s future, the old building was packed to the rafters with people of all ages. “We were overwhelmed by the turnout,” township Mayor John Logel admitted. “But it was an open session and there were some really good suggestions on how the community centre could be re.vitalized.”
After a spirited “exchange of views”, residents carried the day and won a one-year reprieve for their centre if they covered the building’s $5,000-a-year upkeep.
Melissa Holmes, now the chairperson of the centre’s committee, is confident they can pull it off: “I just see too much potential in it. It’s the perfect little space for a family to have a function. Or I can see it as a youth centre, where kids of various ages can come and hang out.”
Once again the community centre echoes to the sounds of children in the playground, the chatter of a harvest supper and foot-stomping of a square dance – all music to the villagers’ ears.
BACK IN 2011, A SMALL GROUP OF BELLEVILLE FILM-LOVERS keen to share their passion for documentaries, started their own film festival – the only one of its kind between Montreal and Toronto. They were determined to offer an alternative to the local multiplex theatres that mostly screened titillation, terror and Tom Cruise’s teeth.
When they formed the DocFest committee, Gary Magwood, now festival chair, was occasionally screening films “to about 10 people” at the Organic Underground Café. Lynn Braun, DocFest’s artistic director and programmer, was involved in a niche film festival focused on women’s issues run by a local committee of EFTO (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.) That group liked the sound of the DocFest and partnered with the fledgling committee offering support, experience and a little cash. Bridge Street United Church Foundation gave a small grant, too, and local organizations were persuaded to sponsor individual films meaningful to their work. With the help of sponsors like the law firm Pretsell Davies, DocFest launched in late winter 2012 with 30 films, mostly from the World Community Film Festival in B.C. that offers “starter packs” to encourage local festivals.
Headquarters and main screening rooms were at the CORE Centre on Pinnacle Street, once the Corby Library, where they squeezed hardback chairs into three little rooms with pull-down screens. It was strictly no frills, unlike Belleville’s Empire Theatre that provided the big screen and the glamour for the Opening Gala featuring special guest Rita Chiarelli, Canadian blues singer and star of the opening film Music From the Big House.
“Having Rita there was genius,” says Gary. “We needed 100 people to come. We got almost 600.”
The dream was to be interactive. “We didn’t want people to just watch films, clap and leave,” says Gary. So there were Q & As and presentations and an art show coordinated by the artist collective, Artists Below the Line, that has become a DocFest tradition. Local filmmakers were urged to submit their work, and in that year, two did. Many more local films were shown the next year.
Today DocFest has galvanized local moviemakers so much “we’re forced to be more selective now,” says Lynn. 2014’s Loyalist Four Squared project had students in teams of four making four-minute movies from which the festival chose four of the best to screen.
DocFest has clearly found its groove. It now has official festival status, meaning it can screen films before they go public, and in 2015 it got two big thumbs up – and a welcome Media Arts Project grant – from the Ontario Arts Council. It’s still run entirely by volunteers, and the work goes on year round, gathering films that open viewers’ eyes, hearts and minds – films like Urban Roots that directly inspired Belleville’s community garden.
The festival traditionally opens with a music film and special guest. In 2015 it was Keep On Keeping On, about 93-year old jazz trumpeter Clark Terry’s mentorship of Justin Kauflin. The 23-year old blind piano prodigy, who suffers crippling stage fright, was to make his Canadian debut performance at DocFest. In a tragic twist, Clark died just before the festival. Volunteer Julia Roberts saved the day by phoning Justin’s mother to promise the crew would get Justin back to New York City for the funeral the following morning. His appearance at opening night, and a special performance for students at Centennial High School, was a coup for organizers and a personal triumph for him.
Veteran volunteer and local sculptor Peter Paylor recalls how they worried about topping that first great year. They needn’t have. “In Year Two we got a 10-minute standing ovation,” he says. “They were clapping for the films and the festival and the volunteers, but they were applauding themselves, too, you know? Cheering for community.”
Belleville in early March is a long way from Cannes in May, but Belleville Downtown DocFest is a hit.
“It helps that everything is within easy walking distance in the downtown core,” says Gary, and at $35 for a festival pass the price is right. The DocFest volunteers love a good film quote. One of their favourites must surely be, “if you build it, they will come.”
The 2016 Belleville Downtown DocFest is March 4, 5 and 6. Read all about it at downtowndocfest.ca.
IF YOU WATCHED THE PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES from Vancouver or Sochi, you know that disabled athletes can tear down the slopes just as quickly, just as skilfully and just as fearlessly as the able-bodied. Perhaps you’ve seen a man in a “sit-ski” – a chair mounted to a ski – bravely fling himself down the mountain at breakneck speed. In an.other event, you might have seen a tandem team – behind, a skier with a visual impairment; ahead, a guide – whizzing down the Giant Slalom. Or maybe you’ve seen a woman expertly navigating the gates, apparently nothing out of the ordinary until you realize she only has one leg
More than anything else, Paralympic skiing vividly demonstrates the abilities of the disabled. But you don’t need an Olympic event to see similar inspiration closer to home. On any Sunday through January and February, the slopes at Brimacombe – the family-sized ski hill run by the Oshawa Ski Club at Kirby – are alive with skiers with various disabilities.
“They don’t go as fast,” quips Ashleigh Bliss, who co-manages the program and has volunteered with it since she was a teen in Port Hope, “but there’s no denying their enthusiasm.” A chapter of the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS), the group at Brimacombe – which calls itself CADS-Durham – has been active since the early 1990s.
“When I started as an instructor some 20 years ago, the emphasis was on physical disabilities: spinal injuries, cerebral palsy, amputations,” explains Ian McArdle, who lives near Cobourg. More recently, there has been a surge in the number of students with cognitive issues, particularly autism. “In either case, we’re showing these people the thrill of skiing…people who might never have thought that skiing was open to them.”
Today, CADS-Durham has a capacity for 35 students and about 75 volunteers, who act as instructors, guides and moral support, and assist with getting the students into their equipment and onto the chairlift.
“New volunteers are always welcome,” Ashleigh says, adding that the best part is watching the students as their confidence builds. “Here, it’s a non-competitive environment, where the object is to learn a new skill and make friends.” This is of particular importance to the disabled, as they often feel marginalized
“I’ve seen students and their families moved to tears – happy tears – as their skiing improves.” Yes it’s an uphill battle, but what a reward: to be able to manoeuvre down the slopes, many with little or no assistance, and feel the same satisfaction that able-bodied skiers do. Indeed, there are plenty of satisfied faces on Brimacombe’s slopes. For example, Lena, who used to ski with her twin sister until her lower-body strength was compromised by illness. She learned the sport all over again as a sit-skier – tentatively and with a guide at first, but now skis independent.ly and confidently. Like old times, she and her twin ski together again.
And there’s Jeff, who suffers from seizures and whose abilities are limited. He doesn’t speak, but when he’s in a sit-ski and his dad, Colin, an experienced CADS volunteer, is “driving” him down the hill, there’s no mistaking the bond between them.
Meanwhile, nine-year-old Marcus has autism and often behaves like he’d rather be anywhere but on a ski slope. Even so, his mom says that skiing is all he talks about during the week and that he can’t wait for his Sunday lesson.
But of all the successes, the most remarkable story is probably Sandy’s. At a glance, you’d never know she has cerebral palsy, but as a pre-teen, it jinxed her confidence as a skier. Over several seasons with CADS, she became a confident competitor and in 2011, she earned a bronze at the Canada Winter Games.
Each CADS chapter raises its own funds. Ashleigh says, “We buy our own equipment and believe me, a sit-ski doesn’t come cheap – upwards of $5,000.” Donations come from service groups, passing the hat and, in recent years, a generous estate bequest.
Despite its success, Ian sees a time when CADS will be obsolete. “There is a movement in this province to ensure the disabled are included in everyday life,” he explains, referring to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, whose goal is to remove barriers to the disabled and make their needs more a part of the mainstream. “And that includes skiing.” He foresees a time when CADS won’t be necessary, because disabled skiing will be a routine part of every ski-school program.
Meanwhile, Brimacombe’s program thrives. Just watch the smiles come down the hill.
SHAWN ELLIS LOVES HISTORY, HE LOVES HIS HOMETOWN and he especially loves Trenton Town Hall. A ninth generation Trentonian, he returned from a career in Toronto to devote his time to the Trent Port Historical Society and its major project – the preservation, renovation and restoration of the lovely old town hall.
Built in 1861, the hall had fallen into disuse by the 1980s and might have faced the same neglect, appropriation and eventual demolition as many other old buildings if the historical society had not stepped in to win heritage designation for it in 1986. They leased the hall from the municipality in the 1990s and undertook renovation and restoration, with fundraising and donations from many civic groups.
By 2008 the society was ready to move its collection of artifacts from storage into the grand old hall. Uniforms, weapons, tools and household implements, maps, documents and photographs were put on display, and Trenton had its own museum.
With a plum position in the old marketplace, it was a great venue for a café, so shortly after the museum opened, the historical society created the Heritage Café, a simple, friendly place with tables and chairs right in the museum where customers can enjoy generous helpings of history along with their soup and sandwiches. Staffed by volunteers and students and overseen by Laura Rickets, café manager, it’s a popular spot and a great way to raise funds, all of which go to heritage and culture projects in Quinte West, from signage to supporting the arts.
“I’ve learned more about the history of my town right here than I ever heard before,” says regular customer Wayne Wyatt. He’s an accessibility consultant who gets around in a wheelchair, and he gives the café top marks for wheelchair friendliness.
Above the café, up a grand staircase and past a wall celebrating Trenton’s film-making history (the expression Hollywood of the North was coined to describe Trenton) is a glorious reproduction Edwardian theatre. The James Alexander Theatre was built entirely by historical society volunteers, including Shawn’s mom and dad who did a large chunk of the carpentry and built the lavish soft furnishings. The stage curtains are plush red velvet, the oval framed photos of past mayors are embellished with gold paint. It’s glorious.
For five years, the theatre has been home to the Bay of Quinte Players. Trenton Chamber nominated it for a business award. But it’s an expensive undertaking, and the theatre has hit hard times. It’s currently closed while the society negotiates with the municipality on its future, which has to include a $70,000 fire curtain.
Shawn hopes to keep the dream alive, but in the meantime another exciting project has reached fruition, and this one doesn’t need bricks and mortar. The Trent Port Historical Society sent out a call to Trentonians everywhere to dig out old family photos, landscapes, street views – anything to illustrate the town’s history. The response was huge, and the society built a digital archive, a database of historic images that is at 17,000 and rising. Local high school students helped create it, and the collection is now being posted daily on Trenton Town Hall’s own Facebook page. It’s a fantastic portal into the past, being shared online, accessible to everyone.
“Have you ever seen Heritage Minutes on TV?” says Shawn, referring to the 60-second mini-movies about events in Canadian history. “They make you say ‘Hey, I didn’t know that! I want to learn more,’ and that’s what we want for our photo archive. We want everyone to learn more about their community and hopefully become an active player in keeping history alive.”
HILARY FENNELL WAS JUST GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL when Prince Edward County’s Recreation Outreach Centre (ROC) began in 2000. Today she is the program director, a bundle of energy whose youthful looks sometimes make it hard to pick her out as the grown-up in a group of teens – particularly when they’re all showing off their banana.smoothie milk moustaches.
ROC also stands for Relationships – Opportunities – Connections, three things it offers absolutely free to every young person in the County, things that, more than money, can make the difference between feeling privileged and underprivileged.
Now in its 16th year, it all started with that most powerful of ground forces – a handful of volunteers with a vision. Darlene Thompson, now Executive Director, was one of those volunteers, a nurse, entrepreneur and mother. “We all believed in the potential of youth, and our vision was to nurture that potential, but also to acknowledge the difficulties kids face in their personal and academic lives.” At the time there were few organized activities outside of school and very little in the way of mentoring and guidance. “We figured we could provide positive opportunities for kids and give them alternatives. It was important that it be free to everybody.”
Programming now includes things like Guy Time, a six-week in-school mentoring program aimed at “helping boys of today become the men of tomorrow,” with activities and conversations focused on making positive lifestyle choices and relationships.
Most activities are mixed, but G.O.L.D. (Girls Outdoor Leadership Development) introduces girls to rock climbing, camping and a little bit of roughing it in the wild. The aim of it all is to create a sense of belonging for young people – in their schools and in their community. The club is a place, not necessarily physical because it moves around, where kids can find support, encouragement and plain old fun. One “Girls ROCk it!” poster shouts out what’s on offer: SNACKS! SELF-ESTEEM! FRIENDSHIP! FIELD TRIP!
At the beginning, local businessman David Cleave gave ROC free accommodation in his Macaulay Village development, and it started as a simple clubhouse, where volunteers showed up, reliably and regularly, to provide a safe place for kids to play, learn new skills and make new friends. The important part was that adults were there for them.
In 2010 ROC expanded to in-school programs in five County schools, and in 2013 it outgrew the clubhouse and moved its core club - ROC Tuesday and Wednesday after-school programs - to Queen Elizabeth Public School in Picton.
In all, ROC has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of County young people, like the candid young man on its website who says, “It showed me there was more to life than running the streets and getting up to no good.”
Volunteers are still the lifeblood of the organization. There are 22 regular adult volunteers – coaches and cooks, police officers, artists and actors and shopkeepers – and 17 students who make all the programs possible by giving a few hours a month and bringing a range of skills and experiences to the participants.
Those who started ROC knew growing up in a small rural town has its up and downsides. Some kids have it easy, others not so much. The outreach program offers adventure, education, fun and encouragement to every young person – for free, no charge, gratis. Visit www.theroc.ca or check out their Facebook page.