By Eva Cohen of Shalom Life -- Jewish youngsters battling addictions in Toronto got some good news recently as The Jewish Addiction Counselling Services (JACS) of Toronto has received a grant from Toronto Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to start an after school drop-in centre and were accepted. The initial grant of $10,000, combined with additional donations from individuals has allowed JACS to expand their services to youth and hold the drop-in centre one day a week at their building located at 858 Sheppard Ave West.
Before applying for the grant, Mark Freedman, assistant director at JACS, spoke with several school principals in the neighbourhood, all of whom agreed that the centre was a good idea.
"The drop in serves as both a preventative and safe place for students to come instead of being in places where they might be tempted to make bad choices," said Freedman. "It also serves as a place where students feel welcome and are provided all the resources they need to address what life may throw at them."
The program currently helps about 10-15 youth who are at various stages of setting goals for themselves to improve their lives, said Jay Pasternack, JACS program director.
"The goal is to get the youth where they may not normally talk to a counsellor," said Pasternack. "It's more informal than programs we hold on other evenings. They can go for a walk with counsellor or sit and chat and connect with the other youth there; help each other out."
The MLSE grant allowed JACS to set the room up for the drop-in centre so that it's just like a comfortable living room. There are seven big leather couches, a big screen TV and a Nintendo Wii and Xbox for the youth to enjoy.
The drop-in services at JACS are available to anyone who has been in school within the last year; meaning also if a youth has dropped out and needs help getting clean to return, they are more than welcome.
Pasternack also wants to remind the community that resources are available for anyone at any time.
"For anyone new and looking for help and don't know where to go for teen and adults, we also have individual counselling available based on donations," he said. "There's no registration for anything. Just tell a name and book a time, and an individual will usually be seen by someone within 24 hours. We have never refused anyone because they couldn't afford it."
Currently, the drop-in centre has about 10 staff members, ranging from high school and university volunteers, to seasoned professionals. In order for the program to grow to more days a week, however, additional help will be needed.
The staff at JACS are trying very hard to raise an additional $40,000 on a one time basis to get the drop-in centre up and running properly.
"We have been very successful at meeting with potential donors and asking for $1000 at a time," said Freedman. "Our goal is to have 40 new donors who now feel a connection to JACS."
More information about the services provided by JACS can be found on their website. Those interested in making a donation to JACS and initiatives such as the drop-in centre can get more information Here or call (416) 638-0350.