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DISADVANTAGED YOUTHS HELP RESTORE WATERSHED



POSTED ON BEHALF OF THE ECOACTION 2000 COMMUNITY FUNDING PROGRAM, 
ENVIRONMENT CANADA - ONTARIO REGION.

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SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS GO HAND-IN-HAND 
ON LOWER DON RIVER


A Toronto environmental group and a few of the city's social 
organizations are proving environmental action and social action can 
go hand in hand to help restore some of the city's natural areas 
while giving disadvantaged youths some valuable life skills.

For the Task Force to Bring Back the Don, it is partly a matter of 
obtaining willing volunteers to help out with its numerous tree 
planting and habitat restoration projects along the Don River, one of 
Toronto's most environmentally degraded watersheds. 

For organizations like Covenant House, a residence for homeless youth, 
or Serve Canada, a life-skills training program for unemployed young 
people, it is a matter of introducing clients to situations that help 
them learn how to work in teams, pick up new skills and find out a 
little bit more about how to get by in a large city.

"Most of the people participating in our projects or events (in the 
past) tended to be middle class and well enough off that they could 
participate," explains David Stonehouse of the Don River Task Force.

"So we tried to put together a project that would give us the resources to 
go after the people who are less able to participate."

The Lower Don Community Stewardship Program received $37,152 from 
Environment Canada's Action 21 Community Funding Program. With the 
money, the group has enlisted help from some of society's less 
advantaged in a project to improve plant and wildlife diversity in 
three areas of the Don River watershed.

Stewardship Program staff spent one day every other week last winter 
with Covenant House residents to prepare them for spring and summer 
planting at three sites: a small forested wetland in the Nordheimer 
Ravine, a stretch of bank on the Don River between Pottery Road 
Bridge and Chester Springs Marsh, and a wet meadow in Riverdale Park 
East.

Similar sessions were held with residents of Toronto's South Riverdale 
community with the help of the Environmental Centre for New Canadians 
and the Woodgreen Community Centre. Serve Canada also found the 
project could contribute to its goals of helping young people develop 
employment skills while contributing to a cleaner environment.

 "This Action 21 project ended up being a perfect fit," says Serve Canada's 
Maeve Sullivan, because the funding allowed a project worker to spend 
time with the youths, show them how to do new things and explain why 
they were doing them.

Don Gladden, life skills co-ordinator at Covenant House, says the stewardship 
program has been a win-win for his organization and Bring Back the 
Don. Not only have groups of young people from Covenant House helped 
restore important areas of the Lower Don River, the act of working 
side by side on environmental projects has helped build an 
atmosphere of trust between Gladden and the young people who use 
Covenant House's services.

The three stewardship projects actually started last summer with preliminary 
preparation of the planting sites, collection and seeding of plants, 
training for  some volunteers, and baseline monitoring so that the 
results of the plantings can be measured later. Actual planting and 
habitat preparation started in April.

Ideally, says Stonehouse, some volunteers will come away from their 
experiences knowledgeable about how to set up similar projects in 
other localities, and with the leadership skills to do so. But even 
if they're not that ambitious, the volunteers will at least have a 
new appreciation for how their work has made a difference to 
Toronto's natural environment and, maybe, they will feel more a part 
of the community.

The Toronto area has been designated an Area of Concern (AOC) by the 
International Joint Commission, the Canada-US body that monitors the 
Great Lakes water quality agreement. Among factors contributing to 
poor water quality in Toronto's rivers and streams is intense 
residential and industrial development, which routes contaminants 
into waterways from storm sewers and runoff. Eventually, these 
pollutants make their way into Lake Ontario, Toronto's main source of 
drinking water.

Planting trees and encouraging wildlife to take up residence in areas along 
the Don River helps return more of the river valley to its natural 
state. This helps filter contaminants from urban runoff and reduce 
the amount of pollution that makes its way into the river. 

Action 21 funded a similar habitat and environmental restoration project 
completed by the Task Force in the summer of 1997. This effort 
attempted to eradicate troublesome Japanese knotweed from three sites 
along the Don River and to replant the sites with native plants. As 
well, a nursery of 200 native willows was established along a 30 
metre stretch of the river for use in future planting projects.

The Lower Don Community Stewardship Program is one of more than 100 
Ontario initiatives that have received partial funding from the 
Action 21 Community Funding Program since its inception in 1995. 
Recently renamed EcoAction 2000, the federal government program 
encourages non-profit organizations to take environmental action at 
the local level. To be eligible, projects must have matching funds or 
in-kind support, respond to community needs and have measurable 
environmental results. Funding applications are continually being 
accepted for deadlines that fall on May 1, October 1 and February 1.

To find out more about EcoAction 2000 funding in Ontario and how your 
community group can qualify, contact the EcoAction information line 
at 1-800-661-7785, or email to: ecoaction2000@ec.gc.ca. See the 
EcoAction 2000 web site on Environment Canada's Green Lane at 
http://www.ec.gc.ca/ecoaction