PACC - Character Matters

Hoorah! Watch what kind of Citizens we're making here!

PACC has been a tireless advocate for the disabled
Character Matters is supposed to celebrate character and I have no doubt past recipients in its short history have been good people, but I'm sure just as many who were deserving have never been even considered to receive one. That's fine, we can't hand them out to everyone, but. inevitably they become political, and why I hate awards of any kind.

Spokes-head Steve Hinder, as I understand, one of the originators of Character Matters, having come on the scene via Belinda Stronach as her assistant when our M.P. in the area, had requested a meeting with me in 2006, after appearing on CBC live to Canada criticizing Stronach for concentrating on the world's impoverished when we had a record 50,000 people using food banks right in York.

"At first I thought you were just a disgruntled hockey dad, but you're not" I recall him saying. 

I had wanted to use the meet opportunity to get him to influence Magna and Neighbourhood Network, which was just starting up, to become a part or sponsors of of our Friendly Neighbourhood Youth Road Hockey Challenge as I'd been involved in a community development project (this is when I was approached to Chair Poverty Action for Change Coalition by various YR agencies) from which I'd learned of many issues that seemed appalling to me including kids having nothing and was why I / we organized York Region's first ever demonstration about poverty on the front lawn of the regional building.

11 years after - Had to tell these kids no tourney in 2015
I'd explained that our event started as a way to engage the local youth and bridge them to the broader community through road hockey as the tourney allowed all kids to form neighbourhood teams and compete against each other on neutral turf and taught newcomers a Canadian tradition and helped them adjust and form friendships. This also gave the kids much needed esteem boosts as it connected them to the broader community and showed they could compete with anyone which enabled us to have a direct influence upon some kids who might coming from a home life in turmoil.

I recall one kid, about 10, he came from a home where the parent was addicted to crack. I think it was the second year of the road hockey event, at that time still held inside Mulock Village a mixed income neighbourhood, and it was particularly cold and snowy that year - a ref quit mid game, players complained and the vibe, at least to me, was all too serious as the emphasis was supposed to be on fun. At the end, as I pondered ever doing it again as no one seemed to be having fun, and as I walked over to the local cafe where I had entertainment and PACC had free hot meals set up for the kids and trophy ceremony, this kid walked up to me and said,

"You know that was the most fun I've ever had".... That blew me away."

PACC has organized a voice for poverty 10 years also
From these experiences, I helped form and chaired for four years Operation Sparrow (now Newmarket Cares) which allocated and transported kids into after-school activity programs free alongside the other kids. I made sure it was designed to eliminate stigma and embarrassment for the parents as well, but left when they seemed to be ok with a board member coming back on board only before the election. Character.

Int Day to Eradicate Poverty gives poverty a voice
Getting back to my meeting with then M.P.'s assistant Steve Hinder. I explained to Steve about the road hockey 'program", why it was started and included that the murder of Mulock resident Mike Thornhill outside a local donut shop, had motivated me to start the Mike Thornhill Award $ for youths showing leadership in the community and not the best hockey player. I explained the whole 9 yards. My ask to him was simple as I explained that the way the tourney best worked was through challenges - as kids we'd challenge another team to play - and that I'd love to get an Aurora team in it. To maybe challenge the town to form a team to play Mulock. I mentioned that with " Neighbourhood Network" being in Aurora it would seem a natural attachment to the Friendly Neighbourhood Road Hockey Challenge and maybe Magna corporation (Stronach's company) could even sponsor?

"A challenge. What a great idea!" I recall him exclaiming.

PACC hosts neighbourhood BBQ bringing in talent
Great, I thought, finally we can take this thing to the level it should be at! But, unfortunately, as I found out later, that eureka moment was not for me as to my surprise Stronach (Hinder)  had become somehow part of promoting the local hockey teams, and announced within a month or so, "The Challenge on Yonge St", then the "Battle of Yonge", between the rivaling Jr A teams. They'd offered us free tickets for some kids. Could they have simply taken my idea!? N.N. promoted our event not one iota, making no response to our requests about it. I think I did manage to wangle a $50 program ad from Magna the one year and that was it. We never made on any short list for the Hoe-down funds either. I believe their challenge match continues to this day

Fast forward 2016, N.N. hosted a "collaboration" for community groups. As you can imagine, I didn't attend...That buzz phrase is long gone passe anyhow, and they should concentrate on what it is they actually do - knowing a disabled person who suffered the entire winter without a 'volunteer" from them assigned to help shovel his driveway, despite being semi-assisted the previous year - after their volunteer quit. They claim 6,000 volunteers yet not once could do his driveway in 2015-16 winter, so, in my opinion, they shouldn't be hosting anything until that's in order. That is their mandate, not hosting "collaborations". That would be my thought if I were its CEO or Chair.

PACC creates opportunities for youth to participate
A few years after N.N., Character Matters was started which Hinder somehow was a part of its originating panel and announced they would be handing out " Character Awards"..Hmmm.

The kicker for me was when they launched their "Character Matters after-school ball hockey program so "new Canadians could learn a Canadian tradition while...." almost identical to our description of our program. You get the picture? Who's going to fund us when a similar program runs? All coincidences of course.

Suddenly he was a local superstar,
suddenly began showing up on various boards, and somehow the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce, even though N.N. was based in Aurora, and on a hospital board which was recently disbanded when its membership all quit for unreported reasons among others.

In between, in my role as Chair of PACC, I unfortunately had had to point out political and operational / agency short comings as the squeaky wheel, none of which was personal, but all of which had seemed to be taken so - quietly kept off boards of directors such as the Blue Door Shelters with a member telling me he thought I was a natural fit but that was told when he suggested me " Not yet" by a former mayor who's son became a local politician and who was also part of Neighbourhood Network's board as well as the shelters'. Maybe sonny will put in a good word!

During that time I'd naively started the "Square Table on Poverty" which included politicians from every level - another YR first - but which was marred by lack of attendance by Belinda Stronach (attending but one monthly meeting in a year) as attendees interest waned. Walking across the floor politically put a fork in it, with then M.P.P. Frank Klees, already a reluctant participant, no longer interested to follow up the initiatives we'd started, such as a recycling pick-up program at restaurants, an initiative brought to the panel through a person in a wheelchair who'd noticed a trend of places tossing bottles with $ value. Character.

We also organized Y.R.'s largest collaboration of its kind in history, York Region's social audit with "Behind the Masks", the resulting report critiquing the local services and shelters in things like how they treated people using them among other sensitive findings. I also assisted developing two feature stories that I provided not only info for, but connected the writer to those who were in poverty for which the paper won prestigious awards - twice - the last one about a homeless father and son eliciting more reaction to any story in recent history, YRMG Writer Chris Traber had told me. I wasn't invited to those awards nor received any credit nor even was offered a thank-you. Oh blogs and video series on the two also went hand in hand with those stories and continue to educate and inform today. And that is supposed to be the goal.

PACC put homeless to work renovating a home for mental health patients
I couldn't understand why I couldn't seem to get the schools on board with promoting our free tourney, but now it makes sense.

Next up we seemed to lose support for the event from the town, with road blocks seemingly being placed to the point we had to move the location 4 or 5 times with participants and sponsors showing up at the wrong location at times over it. Suddenly we could not play in the area were told we would, but instead now to a parking lot, and told we needed rental fencing at a $1500 cost even though Councilor Sponga  had pitched this new Riverwalk Commons to me before built to support it, had said we'd still be able to play there still, when I voiced concern about losing our location if built - which we did...but he did pay for the fencing. Then the Mayor's Charity dropped us, as well a Main St business, who had a politically loyal owner who had once told me she would support it as long as we held it. That was another $1000 gone right there.

The original team members who started it all
We went from playing on Main St, and on page 3 of the Toronto Sun for having such a great town for putting road hockey on Main, to a back parking lot, not even road hockey anymore, which to a theme guy, is devastating. Until then we'd always had an element of it on an actual road. Meantime, traveling the province, I'd passionately pushed the virtues of the road hockey program, expressing a wish to see it go national only to watch as others started their own including in Oakville on its Main St.,and the hospital fundraiser starting up that morphed into an across Canada event with a big sponsor / organizer taking it over...Great idea! But it was ours first and we started first - and no one can take that way.

Main St - only one year road hockey event played on it so far
So I began seeking out other new sponsors ( Neither Tim Horton's nor Canadian Tire ever responded to any previous attempts, but C.T. instead started their own Jumpstart ball hockey program now with Sportcheck who had been OUR sponsor, while the local Tim's never saw fit to help the tourney and award that kept a memory alive of a youth tragically killed on their property), with 2013 only being pulled off because I donated my entire winnings of $2500 for producing the winning one minute ad spot in an across-Canada contest for the Canadian Labour Congress with, One Pay Check Away, to PACC, which helped until we lost our main sponsor only weeks before the event launch in 2014, apparently because the previous year they'd not been able to find what location we'd been moved to at the last minute (we'd been allowed access to RiverWalk Common's stage area for cars and booths and mini-kiddy games previously but they decided no). We still held it, but we were limping, and the lack of coverage was  hurtful, but I was resourceful enough online to make it still happen. Barely. With no money, and admittedly tired, 2015 saw the first year in 11 that it wasn't held. By 2016 and with no media coverage - YRMG never even printed a word about ours from our press release to announcing it, I'm about ready to admit defeat...I guess I have no character.

I was nominated one year for a Character Award and attended only to appease my nominee as I find the whole idea of awards choice processes deplorable, like most any awards. For Our Mike Thornhill "Character Award", we simply drew the winner from the all deserved nominees on our list (each team could nominate a player) and that was our winner. Predictably I didn't win that night, as saving a cat in Georgina or something was deemed more important than saving lives I guess. And yet it seems people getting paid  to do a job get a nomination or win awards... for doing a job they were paid for. Mr Hinder got an award... for his community commitment I suppose. I don't know.

Belindas Place finished but don't expect to find her there
As I stood in line that night, I saw a "Character Matters "nominee I hadn't seen in some time. Ten + years previous I'd been involved with him in a partnership for an comedy show and after I'd spent months writing games for the show, producing, and arranging for it to become a cable TV show over two seasons, including having the station tape it live, at their cost and then designing a program course to be taken into schools, he made a dirty play to try and be rid of me using a frivolous reason. After some thought & anger, I just decided to let it go. As a struggling single dad fresh out of returning to film school at the time, it was devastating to lose that much investment, however some egos are better left to their own devises was my thought. But not before he'd revealed having once been the first person in Canada ever charged with internet stalking of a minor (called it an ex). He'd then held improv classes at area schools for years afterwards, and I assume why he was nominated for a 'Character Award". If you're reading this, I didn't forget you pal!

Character Matters? Yea, sure it does. But it's not defined by any group handing out awards.

Recently I heard of another set of awards for "Volunteers"in the community, and no offense, but I see people who have spent a couple months or years on an issue being awarded, while guys like me and organiations like PACC (my first volunteer stint here was in 1994 for the Newmarket Youth Centre as an original board member, the centre now built) never an article in the paper about, no one telling the world what a wonderful guy I am for volunteering in community development, or for my youth work, or for helping those in need, seniors, the disabled or for spending 6 months all told of full time hours, all working towards gathering info and writing a report, ultimately endorsed by YR council to the Ontario Government. A report I might say was worth 10's of thousands of dollars, donated free for their use, yet sits there as an unused asset. Not one a feature story or any story on PACC either, ever, whilst some groups get coverage several times every year. So it was a tough sled my friends. Capeche?

To set the record straight, I've never been paid a dime for any of my poverty or community development work, and so when someone wrote to the Era Banner inferring I was ' a highly paid..." I never got an opportunity to rebut since they stopped printing my letters to them years ago when I criticized for us building only a single women's shelter (men were openly homeless on the streets) when their Editor in Chief was also on its board - despite the assistance I've given them to get award winning stories and being Chair of the voice of poverty in York Region no matter how they tried to  ignore them. And when I realized and wrote of men dying while living on our streets and they wouldn't cover that even, that's when I dug in .

Volunteer run PACC gives donated pumpkins at the 2014 IDE of Poverty event @ Riverwalk Commons in Newmarket
I got involved, originally because I saw a need, in a community that seemed to have little pride and saw kids without esteem or discipline in some cases, and not for political reasons. My literal first act was to stop kids from banging a pipe on a road sign in the neighbourhood. "You live here. Have some respect I'd said". Ironically it seemed they welcomed my words and attention and I later found out even the local schools had treated the kids living there differently which I found unacceptable. People were being treated unjustly in my eyes and kids were the victims often, so there seemed much room for improvement and hoped I could make a difference. I know I did now because the kids, now adults, have told me I did. That's the only award I need. Although I did accept the Queens Diamond Jublilee Medal because of my nominee - Canadian Crime Victims Foundation. Of course that was for my contributions to Cnada from the queen, and not local recognition. That stays vacant.

Mike Thornhill Award winner enabled to play ice hockey
YR Commissioner Adelina Urbanski
Youths have approached me all winter about the road hockey event and the nets balls and sticks supply, but no more, as even stalwart York Region Housing, which'd always been willing before to help out, has ignored it's own community assets, no longer providing those funds, I suppose to use an unproven regional fave for all their youth funding...and a lot more I'm sure than the $300 we ever got to operate for their teams entered. I still sit as a now 6 year volunteer on their housing advisory committee though, despite, in my opinion, their failure to use what's right in front of them. But you see, I don't hold it against them, as strategies are assigned by the municipality Region of York and know some things they cannot control - and the kids are more important than my personal beliefs...and because character matters. Lowercase.

And despite contrary assertions from York Region's Commissioner, so long as York Region continues to and Newmarket and Aurora continue to leave grassroots groups and members out of their boards and strategy sessions, they will continue to miss the mark. I learned long ago that the best programs originate from the ground up and not the top down, and, until they have some inclusion, that won't change. That's one of the first changes I'd make.

My private business seems to have a hard time getting any traction locally, despite being an industry award winner, with anyone that deals within certain circles I've noticed, and no one has ever offered me a full time job within the Region or in the agencies either - while my colleagues have - so believe me when I say I've had every reason to back off. Geez yet I'm even trained in dispute resolution and group facilitation through C.M.H.A..

But you know, upon reflection, with my experience now, with having dealt with ministers and attended dozens of invite only meetings, being locked-in for budgets and attended for both the provincial and federal governments in addition to the initiatives I started or participated in, including presenting deputations to both town and regional councils and attending in parliament, and through advocacy, I've come to forge relationships that should be beneficial to the cause.
Last I heard the Character Matters after school
ball hockey program had morphed to ice hockey and then cancelled altogether,
once again showing me they're missing the mark.
and its about a life in between the games, not the game itself...and engaging them a bit to influence. Meantime those kids are sitting on green boxes now instead of goal creases.

It's where they live, for them more than 
beating boredom, forming friendships, a team, a community a belonging, pride. Constructive.

What was it Al Pacino's character Col Slade says in the movie Scent Of A Woman when he addresses the "character" the school was teaching through its action of rewarding a rich, privileged kid who's parents were big donors, at the expense of ruining a poor kids life,

"Hoo - rah! Watch what kind of citizens you're making here!"

Tom out.

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