Rotary District 7070
NSRC Bulletin July 27, 2022
Attendance: 17
Oh, Canada – President Courtney
Toast to the Queen, Canada, and Rotary. President Courtney
1. Courtney Fisher reminded the club’s members of the East Toronto Connect event at the yacht club to be held the following day, Thursday, July 28.
2. Danny Cassidy remaindered the club’s members of the upcoming Ribfest event and the need for volunteers.
Introduction of speaker: Saifoo Lau
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Speaker: Alfred Lam, Center for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS)
Alfred’s presentation traced the birth and maturation of CICS, the organization’s role in serving the community, and the need to see clients as individuals.
Fifty-four years ago, in 1968, in Chinatown, Toronto, a group of students came together to meet a need that was evident in the Chinese population.  The students noted that a lot of Chinese residents, primarily Chinese language speakers, were facing challenges reading, understanding, and completing documents and forms that were written in English. The group of students started to offer their services to the residents. They worked to translate documents and help the residents to complete forms and more successfully engage Canadian institutions.  One of those students was Alfred Lam.
Fast-forward 54 years, Alfred is the current executive director of CICS. The organization has eight locations, is staffed by 140 people, has a combined operating budget of 10 million dollars, serves approximately 25 000 people annually, and is able to deliver services in 10 different languages to a variety of communities.
Alfred explained some of the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic had created for communities across the greater Toronto area and the need for immediate and urgent actions to help meet these needs.  He spoke of the increased demands placed on the organization’s food bank services.  However, he was quick to provide contexts for each food bank client’s personal story, and in doing so, encouraged everyone to see beyond the client’s needs to each client’s story.
To illustrate his point, Alfred constructed a Jenga* tower and, in removing each piece from the tower, he demonstrated how a person’s life can be gradually eroded as a result of the negative impact of several challenges (e.g. mental health, personal injury, family dynamics, racial injustices).  Using Jenga pieces, Alfred illustrated how each challenge can give birth to additional challenges until the fundamental pieces of a person’s life are so negatively impacted – eroded – that, like
the Jenga tower, a person’s life may implode.
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In identifying contributing factors to an individual’s vulnerability, Alfred identified increased challenges for sponsored immigrants who are unable to make ends meet, international students, and the persistent challenges that people face regarding accessing housing – 20% of people facing homelessness are between 13 – 24 years, and 52% are between 25 – 49 years.
In closing, Alfred reiterated the need to look beyond viewing each person as a client but rather see each person as an individual whose life has been shaped and impacted by the gradual removal of the Jenga pieces that at one point may have supported a more stable life.
Alfred took several questions from the members.  Some questions focused on whether or not service providers like CICS have the capacity to reach all people who may be experiencing challenges.  Additional questions brought attention to the role that better urban planning may play in helping to alleviate systemically created challenges. Alfred was also asked to speak about CICS’ advocacy policies for change.
Thanking the Speaker: Courtney thanked the speaker and, after also thanking the members, the meeting was terminated.
* Built on the simple premise of stacking blocks, Jenga engages players of all ages, across all cultures. Jenga's success rests on its solid play value. Players take turns to remove a block from a tower and balance it on top, creating a taller and increasingly unstable structure as the game progresses.
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