Charity Stories

TOES Niagara

Black teenagers in Niagara are learning self-advocacy and getting a boost to their confidence because of a grant that gives them access to new skills and connections with mentors and role models who look like them.

A partnership with Brock University and a $25,000 contribution from the Niagara Community Foundation allowed Tools of Empowerment for Success (TOES) Niagara to develop a year-long education program to empower Black teenagers to take charge of their futures.

From Saturday morning lessons on campus at Brock University to field trips to Queen’s Park and Black history sites, about 60 Niagara teens were shown how to participate in government, how to celebrate their identities, and the steps they can take to reach their full potential. They learned anti-racism strategies, financial literacy, how to take care of their mental health, and how to explore the careers open to them.

Nyarayi Kapisavanhu of TOES Niagara said holding the classes on campus at Brock was a way to make participants comfortable with a university environment and be able to imagine themselves there as students one day.

Parents were also invited to participate in a parents’ program, and students were paired with a Black mentor who got to know them and encouraged them in their hopes and dreams.

The pilot project, which had space for 60 students from the Niagara Catholic District School Board, ended up with a waiting list, said Kapisavanhu, but its value is clear and the program will be expanded into other school boards.

“Niagara Catholic recognizes the very specific needs of addressing the challenges of Black youth in our schools, specifically in finding mentors who represent their future selves,” said Lee Ann Forsyth-Sells, Niagara Catholic Superintendent of Education responsible for the Equity and Inclusive Education portfolio. “We are very pleased to partner with TOES Niagara in creating this program, and thank the Niagara Community Foundation for the funding to support this innovative project.

One parent who attended the parents’ course said she learned about governance and was inspired to join the parent council at her child’s school. For a student participant in a school with only three black students and an all-white staff, being in a room full of other teenagers who could share her cultural experience was a comfort. It was also a relief to be paired with a mentor “who looked like me to guide me in my future plans,” she said. “Even if I feel alone at my school, I am not alone because [this program] has provided a village for me.”