Monday, March 24, 2014

Ephraim’s Place takes shape: Downsview

Ephraim Brown was attending his cousin’s birthday party in July, 2007, when he was hit by a stray bullet during a gang shootout. He died on the sidewalk near his home on Sheppard Ave. He was 11 years old.

Ephraim lived in a community housing complex; after his death, his family moved away, and the house stood empty.

There was a brief period when it was used for a homework club for neighbourhood kids, and there were plans for other programming; this happened when a delegation of Ephraim’s friends and playmates went downtown and appealed in person to Gene Jones at TCHC headquarters.

Alas, the funding for the homework club ran out recently, and the house is empty again, and here I remind you that there is still a very long waiting list of people who have no place to live.

Now the good news.

Across the street from the house where Ephraim lived is the Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene. The church has a big, high-ceilinged, multi-purpose gym with a kitchen. After the boy’s death, it was christened Ephraim’s Place.

It, too, was a resource for neighbourhood kids but it was falling apart, and the church is not wealthy, and while it may not be quite as simple as a couple of phone calls, here’s what happened:

Councillor Maria Augimeri called former councillor Joe Pantalone, who does some work on behalf of the Labourers’ International Union of North America, and Joe called the union, and the next thing you know there are organizers and office staff all over the gym, sanding the floor, slapping paint on the walls, and getting ready to put in a new stove.

On their own time.

With donated material.

I dropped by the other day: the sound of power tools, the smell of paint, the good-natured laughter of good people doing good work.

Roly Bernardini is the president of Local 506. He said, “We wanted to get involved in something. Joe Pantalone brought us here.”

At first, the union was just going to do the floor. Roly said, “We looked around. We said, ‘Let’s do it all.’”

And so they rounded up paint and tiles and plaster, and a new stove and range hood, and the provincial council of the union donated money for cabinets. Roly said, “We’re coming in after work, and on days off. There are 25 or 30 volunteers.”

Pastor Bill Sunberg said that the floor, all by itself, would have cost $5,000 to replace. Roly said, “At the end of the day, this is a $60,000 job.” He also said, “The key was the story of Ephraim.”

The gym is a textbook example of a good workplace: all tools in their place, drops cloths neatly spread, materials properly organized. One guy was running a sander. Him, I had to remind about earplugs.

It’s a thing of mine.

There were a couple of women in the kitchen with paint rollers and brushes. When I paint, I also decorate myself. They were spotless.

I asked Merissa Preston what she does by day. She said, “I connect apprentices to contractors.” How does she like using a roller? She laughed and said, “I’ve never done physical labour.”

And Isabella Costanzo said, “I’m the office manager for Local 506. This is the first time I’ve ever picked up a paintbrush. I love it. I appreciate more what our members do. It’s tiring. I’m happy. It’s rewarding.”

It gets better.

Roly said, “We’re thinking of getting people from the neighbourhood to do apprenticeships and training.” It occurs to me that Ephraim, were he still alive, would be very nearly old enough now for one of those apprenticeships.
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