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519 hoping to raise another million

Queer community reference added to mission statement

SEARCH CONTINUES. "If we had the best community centre in the world we should have the best executive director and if it takes six months, we'll take six months," says Mathieu Chantelois.

Renovations at the 519 Community Centre could continue for several more years and it may not have a new executive director for months to come.

Those attending The 519’s annual general meeting on Sep 25 also learned that the organization is in good financial shape, running a small surplus of $34,353 on revenues of $1,009,296 for the year ending Dec 31, 2006. The 519 has about $2 million in cash and short-term investments in the bank. About half of that money is tied up in the building and renovations fund.

The 519 also elected five new board members and approved changes to the constitution and the mission statement aimed at improving diversity at The 519 and reflecting its status in the queer community.

The evening began with a farewell to The 519’s longtime executive director Alison Kemper who left at the end of last year. Kemper reminded those presentof the need for the community centre.

“Life is not getting easier in this town for those who have nothing and The 519 knows it,” she said. “The world is not becoming a nicer place.”

Interim executive director Nicci Stein told the meeting that the new addition to The 519 should be completed by the end of 2007, but she said after that the plan is to shift operations to the new addition and spend the next two years renovating the old part of the building.

In a subsequent interview with Xtra 519 board chair Mathieu Chantelois concedes that the drawn-out renovations are interfering with the The 519’s ability to fully serve its neighbourhood. Chantelois blames the delays on the City of Toronto. The 519 receives most of its funding from the city including a majority of the funding for the renovations.

“The city picks the construction manager,” says Chantelois. “It’s being built at the fastest pace of city construction. That’s where we’re stuck. We feel the responsibility to deliver the building as quickly as possible. We are doing everything as quickly as possible.”

Chantelois says The 519 is looking to raise another $1 million from the community which has already donated about $6 million to The 519’s renovation.

“There’s enough to finish building the centre,” he says. “But we need more for furniture and telephones and so on.”

Chantelois says he is confident that The 519 will not be a victim of the city’s financial crisis.

“We’ve had meetings with [city councillor] Kyle Rae,” he says. “So far it’s not affecting community centres. If we have to, we have a case ready to present. There’s no way we can close the centre for a day a week. We feed people every day.”

Chantelois also told the meeting that the search for a new executive director will continue. He said the hiring committee has interviewed some candidates but was not satisfied with any of them.

“The committee did two interviews and we decided that even if we had some outstanding candidates it was not the proper fit for the position,” he says. “We felt that if we had the best community centre in the world we should have the best executive director and if it takes six months, we’ll take six months.”

Also at the AGM elections were held for five new members to the board of directors. The City of Toronto, which technically is required to appoint those five nominees to the board, requires a certain number of board members to live within the neighbourhood of The 519, specifically the area bordered by Bay, Bloor, Gerrard and Parliament Sts. As well, only members who live within that area are eligible to vote for the board. Chantelois says The 519 hopes to persuade the city to change that policy.

Joan Anderson and Donald Middleton were reelected to the board. Paul Devereaux, LaVerne Monette and former Pride cochair Natasha Garda were elected as first-time directors.

The membership also approved changes to The 519’s constitution in an attempt to increase the diversity among the board of directors.

People who are not Canadian citizens can now run for the board. Previously only those who were eligible to run for city council could sit on The 519 board. A clause was also added calling for greater diversity.

“Board members should collectively possess an understanding of diverse neighbourhoods and communities within their catchment area; reflect the cultural and social diversity of the community; have knowledge and understanding of community and public service; and possess good communication and decision-making skills,” reads the new clause.

The membership also voted to change The 519’s mission statement to include a specific reference to the queer community for the first time, as well as the larger neighbourhood the centre serves.

The statement now reads: “The 519 is a meeting place and focal point for its diverse downtown communities. Within a supportive environment, it responds to the needs of the local neighbourhood and the broader LGBT communities by supplying resources and opportunities to foster self-determination, civic engagement and community participation.”