TORONTO -- When the Toronto Kiwanis Boys & Girls Club needed someone to step up to the plate to help complete a section of its revitalization project, the Jays Care Foundation was there to deliver, and it came through with a home run.
Thanks to a $100,000 Field of Dreams grant, the Jays Care Foundation helped fund a brand new gymnasium at the TKBGC in the Cabbagetown-Regent Park area of Toronto, which was unveiled at the Spruce Street location on Friday.
A large gathering was on hand for the occasion, including many of the kids who use the TKBGC facility on a daily basis. In addition to the money, equipment such as bats, balls and gloves were also donated to the TKBGC, which will enable it to launch a baseball program.
The day was especially significant for Rob Drynan, the executive director of the Jays Care Foundation. Drynan, one of many members of the Jays Care Foundation in attendance for the ceremony, has a soft spot for the neighborhood he once called home.
"For me, personally, it's important, because I grew up one block down the road," Drynan said. "To have a safe place to get together and learn life skills and play is critical.
"For the parents who are working two jobs, or aren't capable of taking care of their kids, this means everything. It's a way to ensure these kids are able to get on a road to success."
The community, which is home to a large amount of youth and underprivileged families, was in need of a multipurpose center that would strive to keep its kids safe and active, which is exactly what the TKBGC sets out to achieve.
While the gym, which connects to an exercise room in the basement of what was once an old church, will offer an active space for physical activities, the facility boasts much more than that. After undergoing a $7 million transformation, made possible through donations from charitable organizations such as the Jays Care Foundation and a $2 million grant from the federal government of Canada, the TKBGC has a little bit of something for everyone.
The seven-year project, which is in its final stages of completion, has a rock climbing wall, technology center, an arts and crafts and dance studio, and a recording studio in is the final stages of installation. There is a performance space with a stage capable of seating over 200 people, which is also used as a games room, as well as a cooking, literacy and junior journalist program.
After the renovations, the TKBGC went from having 12,000 square feet of usable space to 25,000. It was a creative project that has now morphed into an all-star facility.
People have stepped up to give back to the community, and one person who has been around to watch it all is Ian Edward, the executive director of the TKBGC.
Edward, who alongside Drynan started off the day with opening remarks, has been working with the TKBGC for 25 years, the last nine of which have been at the Cabbagetown-Regent Park location. He's amazed at the transformation, but even more proud to be helping at-risk youths lead a better life.
"We are serving the Regent Park community," Edward said. "It's a community that has been in transition and has its own set of challenges.
"With 25 percent of the population under the age of 18, there is a real need for services for young people."
This was the first time the Jays Care Foundation and the TKBGC teamed up on a project, Edward said, but it didn't take much convincing to get the charitable arm of the Blue Jays involved.
"I realized this facility had reached the end of its life cycle," Edward said. "We reached out to everyone and anyone when we went through this process. I had a great fortunate meeting with someone from Jays Care, and one thing led to another."
Edward said that because of the Jays Care Foundation's efforts, the gymnasium "allows kids to do more than just come home after school and sit in their apartment."
That was quite evident Friday. The kids, who were part of an all-day camp, were ecstatic when they got to meet Blue Jays mascot Ace before participating in a set of baseball drills in the new gymnasium they can now call home.
"It's huge for them," Drynan said. "It serves roughly 1,000 kids, predominantly from Regent Park."
The Jays Care Foundation helps build safe places for kids to play baseball and other sports, and has invested more than $7.5 million in Canada's children and communities, including the refurbishment of 20 baseball fields.
Chris Toman is a contributor to MLB.com.