Inner City Outreach (ICO) is a Canadian non-profit that is dedicated to transforming under-served areas of major urban centres, starting with Jane and Finch in Toronto, Canada. ICO is located at Jane Street and Shoreham Drive and reaches out to communities throughout the Jane and Finch area.
ICO was officially recognized as a Canadian non-profit organization in 2003, but its programs have been in existence since the early 1990s under the community arm of Christian Centre Church (CCC). CCC has been a constant support of many residents of the Jane and Shoreham neighbourhood, not exclusive to church members only. This work has included food bank drives, community garage sales, homework and basketball programs and youth day trips. In 2010, ICO was re-launched with a renewed emphasis on improving community outreach to youth and families in the Jane Finch community. ICO expanded from its original Shoreham program site, to three sites at Toronto District School Board Priority Neighbourhood schools (Oakdale and Africentric) from 2010 – 2020. Christian Centre Church still remains a sister organization to Inner City Outreach by providing office and building space for administration and activities.
Inner City Outreach (ICO) was officially given Canadian charitable status in 2003. Prior to its incorporation, ICO’s programs had been in existence since the early 1990s under the community arm of Christian Centre Church (CCC). Having a separate entity allowed ICO to enhance its impact by strategically focusing on the pragmatic needs of the community. Several of CCC’s existing programs were subsumed in this new corporation.
MAJOR STIMULUS FUNDING
ICO in partnership with Christian Centre Church received a major Crime Prevention Grant. This funding allowed ICO to create its first homework club. Prior to the grant, programs operated with an informal, drop-in approach, but the grant allowed program staff to be hired and a structured after-school program to be organized.
Further funding allowed expansion
Funding from the provincial government stewarded by the African Canadian Christian Network (ACCN) and Canada’s Summer Jobs Initiative allowed ICO to:
1. Expand its programming to a structured basketball league located at Brookview Middle School (prior to funding, the program operated in the CCC gym).
2. Launch its first summer camp which provided fun, recreational activities for dozens of youth and created summer employment for 5 local youth counsellors.
Within a span of a few days, several youth involved in ICO programs became victims of gun violence, one being fatally wounded. ICO’s involvement with the community was pivotal. Pastor Olu was called upon to be a community healing agent as he spoke with students, school administrators and other community leaders. In the wake of this difficult summer, ICO was invited to expand its programming to the south side of Finch. In October of that year, the after-school program at Oakdale Park Middle School began.
INTERNSHIP PROGRAM LAUNCH
A wave of university students began to move into the Jane and Shoreham townhomes and apartments. Passionate for change, these students devoted 6-12 months of their year to serve as volunteers for ICO. The Internship program provided positive role models for the youth in the community both inside and outside of program hours.
RE-LAUNCHING OF ICO AND FURTHER EXPANSION
Inner City Outreach hired Pastor Olu Jegede as Executive Director. Olu’s youth outreach and community development experience (honed during the grassroots programming years of CCC) were key factors in this decision. With Olu as the strategic leader of ICO, stakeholders felt that the programs would continue to grow in both breadth and depth to effect community change. The After-school Homework Program expanded to the Africentric Alternative School at this time.
ADVENTURE RECREATION IS BIRTHED
Scouts Canada partnered with ICO to start a recreation program that would impact youth and younger children. The Scouts program also increased parental engagement and volunteerism through weekend activities and excursions. In the first year alone, a dozen youth traveled to outdoor Scout camping facilities, learned new skills such as knot tying and navigation while being led by positive mentors.
PARTNERSHIP WITH URBAN PROMISE TO INCREASE IMPACT
Urban Promise, a national leader working in inner city areas, partnered with ICO. This partnership allowed ICO to expand its programming to include Summer Camps and Youth leadership training for the Brookview Homework Program.
In 2016, Jennifer Jegede became Executive Director and continued guiding programs for several years. Under her leadership, she engaged the team at numerous workshops, galas and awareness events. She provided extraordinary guidance and consistency during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. She maintained community relations and spearheaded many programming efforts and single-handedly delivered countless food boxes.
In 2022, the team (led by Melissa Walks) launched a series of innovative initiatives including a Leadership program, new youth employment opportunities, Empowering Young Voices, a podcast initiative, entrepreneurship and mental health workshops, winter sports trips, book runs and free store days.
Now back under the direction of Olu Jegede, the team continues to provide excellent programming for a new season. Many of our past staff, interns, volunteers and program participants remain involved at various levels of support from board members, to current staff, to financial donors and advocates. We can’t wait to see what the next chapter has in store! #welovejane&finch