University of Toronto Scarborough's 150 Neighbours finds local heroes

Campus celebration this week wraps up 6-month project

by Mike Adler - Scarborough Mirror

If you were listing great people from Scarborough, you could start with professional athletes, entertainers and media personalities.

But 150 Neighbours, a project of the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), doesn’t stop with Orlando Franklin, Mike Myers and “Maestro” Fresh Wes Williams.

In celebrating Canada’s 150th year, UTSC wanted to recognize 150 local people or groups. They weren’t just looking for celebrities who put Scarborough on the map.

They also searched out “local heroes,” volunteers and people making positive contributions in other ways.

You’ve probably heard of Myers, Franklin and Williams. They’re all in Wikipedia.

But what about Jazmine Reyes? She’s eight, but already an organic gardener and recycling activist. And she’s in 150 Neighbours.

So are Father Fred Foley, the straight-talking pastor of St. Bartholomew Church, and Cari Flammia, who delivers “blessing bags” to shelters and undergarments to women rescued from sex trafficking.

Even people who know Scarborough “will be knocked out” by who was profiled, UTSC principal Bruce Kidd said this week.

“It turned out to be way bigger than anything we imagined,” Kidd said of 150 Neighbours, which wrapped up Tuesday with a celebration at the Meeting Place, an indoor public square on campus.

“I’ve always believed the most important heroes to have are the ones you know are accessible in their communities.”

The project found and documented people enriching Scarborough in small or large ways, said Helen Stratigos, a north Scarborough writer who did 56 of the profiles displayed at

“I wanted to highlight an interesting cross-section of Scarborough, people who are often under-represented on ‘power’ lists but who are pulling so much weight to improve our communities, create opportunities for others, showcase diverse talents and ideas and bring pride to Scarborough.

“Optimism and success are inspiring. We spotlighted everyone from social workers, to artists, athletes, community organizers, scientists, visionaries, humanitarians and everyday kind and thoughtful people.”

At first, Firaaz Azeez of the Muslim Welfare Centre in Malvern was reluctant to be recognized, thinking he was “just an everyday guy.”

But he warmed to the project, and believes we need to hear more stories about average Canadians doing remarkable things.

“So many of us came from another land and made Scarborough home,” he said last week. 

Salam Rifai, a settlement counsellor and supervisor at Tesoc Multicultural Settlement Services, was also surprised to be in 150 Neighbours, but she believes Scarborough is “so rich” in many ways.

The area isn’t a whole country, “yet it has the whole world in it,” said Rifai, who feels helping newcomers to Canada here is “better than getting the Oscar.”

The project’s point “is Scarborough citizens are ambitious, and passionate, and they’re doing great things,” said Scarborough Community Renewal Organization chairperson Jennifer McKelvie, another person chosen.

Kwesi Johnson, a child and youth worker well-known in Malvern, was also profiled, and said it’s humbling to see “the body of work” all 150 Neighbours have put into the community over time. 

Full article: Inside Toronto