One Woman’s Quest To Help the Children of Jamestown

By: Cherise Smellie

Julie-Ann Harris Mason is a full-time Learning Technology Specialist, who dedicates her free time to lead a special program. That special program, is Story Hour. 

“I wanted to be more intentional in getting involved with and to engage the community of Rexdale. As a church we always talk about helping in the community but I didn’t just want to talk about it, I wanted to actually do it. These children are special… they have so much to offer the world. And where they live shouldn’t stop them from being able to reach their full potential.”  

Story Hour was initiated by Mason and the Toronto West Seventh Day Adventist Church in 2016.

A still shot of a section of the Jamestown neighbourhood in Rexdale, Toronto.

It’s geared toward the children and youth of the Jamestown neighbourhood and its mission is simple; involve and engage young minds through music, crafts, and stories that emphasize social and moral life lessons. 

The community of Jamestown sits at the intersection of John Garland and Martin Grove Road and has seen its share of rough days, from issues with crime, gang violence, the struggles of low income and subsidized housing. Mason understood the need for a haven for young people deemed ‘at risk’ and decided to do something about it. 

She did the work. She found a space and recruited volunteers. Those volunteers are still a part of the program today and are thankful Mason took the initiative to make it a reality.

Every Saturday afternoon she travels to The Hub – a centre in the neighbourhood – carrying food, essential items, crafts and whatever else might be needed for the day and sets up. Before the program starts, Mason and her team of volunteers check in with the children, have one on one conversations with them and get them settled in; the older ones often assisting the younger ones.

Georgette Powell, who has been a volunteer since the program’s inception, recognizes the need. “I’m glad Julie didn’t just sit around and talk about it. I’m glad she actually got it done. Often, when young people are deemed at risk they are written off. Story Hour shows these kids that they’re not written off, they matter and sometimes that’s all they need… is someone to show them that they care and want to help.”

Fast forward to five years later and Story Hour is still helping and still thriving. The positive changes and attitudes displayed by the children and youth show the impact the program has had on their lives. This has fuelled Mason and her team even more and they’ve since been able to secure a small budget for funding from the church’s administrative team.

Mason’s goal is to continue to give the children of Story Hour the tools they need to change their lives.

It takes a village.

A Google maps overview of the Jamestown community.

Story Hour has assisted the children and youth with not only essential items but also with grief counselling, and when the pandemic hit, a grant from the Ontario Seventh Day Adventist Conference allowed them to purchase and issue computer devices to assist with the children’s online learning. 

Mason loves the direction the program is headed in and is happy she did the groundwork. “I don’t regret doing all the preparations and the legwork. Jamestown has not only wrestled with crime, but the community has wrestled with a lot of socio economic issues related to poverty, unemployment, immigration, education and family breakdown… I knew when I was walking through the community and saw all the children and young people, that we could make a difference.”

Maria McClean, who is a director at the Ontario conference and also a volunteer with Story Hour, agrees. “It absolutely makes a difference. This program serves the children in such a positive way and I see these kids as my kids. We often talk about the proverbial village that raises children… and that’s why I’m involved, it takes a village to raise a child and this program is dear to my heart because our children are the most important members of our society.”

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