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Neighbourhood organizations merge

If you need a hand finding seniors care, affordable housing, English classes, daycare or a new job in east Toronto, you will soon find more help in one place.

Starting July 1, two social service agencies, Neighbourhood Link and Central Neighbourhood House, will join under one banner: The Neighbourhood Group.

“When people walk through the door, it will still feel like the place they know, and have ownership of, really,” says Mary McGowan, executive director of Neighbourhood Link.

“We’re not dissolving anything.”

Since 2006, the Ontario government has offered to help health and social services agencies join up wherever they can. The idea is to make Ontario’s $20-billion public health budget easier to manage.

Locally, McGowan said a good example is True Davidson Meals on Wheels – a standalone East York charity that recently joined Neighbourhood Link.

“They were putting the same amount of effort into the True Davidson Meals on Wheels as into Toronto East General,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Besides saving the province time and money, such mergers can lead to better programs. Now that it’s part of Neighbourhood Link, True Davidson Meals on Wheels is recruiting 10 volunteers to deliver meals south of Danforth Avenue for the first time.

Joining Neighbourhood Link and Central Neighbourhood House has similar benefits, on a much larger scale. Together, the agencies receive nearly $20 million in government funding and employ more than 100 full-time and 300 part-time staff.

Neighbourhood Link was founded as Senior Link in 1975, and while it now serves many other people besides seniors, McGowan said it still has a wider range of seniors programs than Central Neighbourhood House.

One program it doesn’t have is the CNH stroke survivors group, which helps people regain mobility, speech and social confidence.

Also, from its main office on Ontario Street, CNH runs a home-care program that sees some 250 staff giving personal support to seniors who live between Dovercourt Road and Warden Avenue. Many of the seniors they care for have mental health issues or addictions that would make it difficult for them to live in a group setting or to get help from for-profit providers.

For its part, CNH has a history going all the way back to 1911, when it opened the second settlement house in Toronto.

Today, McGowan said CNH and Neighbourhood Link offer roughly the same level of immigration services. But while CNH tailors its English classes to women, Neighbourhood Link’s are co-ed, meaning they can send students to each other.

Asked if the Neighbourhood Group might expand further, McGowan said she hopes so.

“One area that we aren’t funded for at all is mental health services,” she said. “And yet, both organizations have a very large number of clients with mental health disorders or limitations.”

“It really is a gap, so that’s an area where we’re looking for a partner.”

In the meantime, McGowan and her counterpart at CNH, Elizabeth Forestell, have a lot of work to do.

Unlike moving the meals-on-wheels program to Neighbourhood Link, McGowan said that, technically speaking, what the two agencies are doing is not a merger, but an amalgamation.

It’s more complicated, she said, but it ensures both agencies continue to offer all the services they did before, and avoid any staff layoffs. The whole amalgamation process will likely take about five years.

By that time, McGowan will likely be several years into retirement, having served at Neighbourhood Link for 19 years. She and finance director Brenda Mahoney, who joined 25 years ago, are both stepping down soon.

Even as it continues to grow, McGowan said Neighbourhood Link has stayed true to a simple idea – that neighbours look out for each other.

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