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Helping the old and the young in Toronto

What is a community without the people who work every day to maintain activities, to help and to maintain open spaces to welcome those in need? I met Aurianne Fazendeiro and Carina Paradela, two energetic women who changed the course of life in the first Portuguese community space in Toronto.

In September 1956, Portuguese immigrants decided to open a place in Toronto where they could meet and maintain Portuguese culture even though they were far from Portugal. “In addition to being a meeting point, it was also a place where people who had just arrived came looking for work, a house, etc. It was really a point of support for people who had just arrived from Portugal” explains Carina Paradela, director of operations at the First Portuguese Canadian Cultural Centre (FPCCC) .

And that was how the first Portuguese cultural centre in Toronto and the Province of Ontario was born. According to Aurianne Fazendeiro, general director, the Portuguese centre increased in size over the years. “There was a restaurant, football teams, and the centre even had a lot of power in the government, advising how many flights came from Portugal. And all the other organizations that exist today came from the FPCCC”.

The centre has since played the role of a bridge between Portugal and Canada. But today, the role of the FPCCC has changed. If the intention of not forgetting one's roots and culture is still part of the centre's identity, it now plays a major role in Toronto's society.

“One of our biggest focuses is the day care centre for the elderly. We have a day care centre that is open every day of the week and that welcomes elderly people, whether Portuguese or not (but the majority are Portuguese) to spend the day with us. We offer several activities such as gymnastics, and bingo to keep them entertained and not feel lonely and they also have breakfast and lunch here”, describes Carina.

Another focus for the FPCCC is to maintain and teach Portuguese through a Portuguese school associated with the Camões Institute. Teachers give classes to children on Saturdays. In addition to the school, the Portuguese centre has daycare services for five children - they speak Portuguese to the children, whether they are Portuguese or not - and the centre also organizes summer, spring or Christmas camps for kids.

For the general director, the idea is to “serve the little ones as well as the older ones, and thus reach several generations”.

If in the beginning, the organization could work with volunteers only, when the two women joined the management team in 2017, they realized that in order to maintain the centre open, the community work needed to be paid.

“Because our space is open every day from Monday to Friday, we cannot only count on volunteers. All people who work with us are paid, except for those who work at the day care centre for the elderly”, explains Carina.

As FPCCC is a non-profit entity, part of the funds it receives to stay open comes from its members. Elderly people pay a reduced fee of forty dollars per year to access the centre every day and eat breakfast and lunch for free. This part is very important for the two women who have worked over the years to keep the day care centre free for the elderly.

Carina Paradela (left) and Aurianne Fazendeiro (right)

“We didn’t want the price to be an impediment to coming to the centre. We have always believed in giving our best to the community. We started charging for our other services (and we have reasonable prices when compared to what you see in the community) to cover the costs and maintain a free service for the elderly. It’s our way of giving back to the community”, explains Aurianne.

In addition to quotas, the organization also receives some government support, it is a recipient of Second Harvest, a program that saves food products from supermarkets and brings them to the center to be used in the centre's kitchen, and it voluntarily offers its services in a bingo hall . “This volunteering is part of the OLG Charitable Gaming program. We go there to represent our center, we welcome people and clean the machines. And in return, we receive a part of the gaming house’s profits”, details Carina.

According to the two women, without this program, they would not be able to pay the FPCCC's monthly rent and expenses. A conclusion they reached when in 2017 they took over the management of the Portuguese centre.

“When I joined the board as vice-president, we went through a lot. We had some very difficult years where I experienced things very intensely. I first got involved with the organization through their daycare service. For me it was important that my first daughter went to daycare here. I remember being extremely active in getting her here because there were few vacancies. For me, there was something very fascinating about children interacting with the elderly. The centre is the type of place that, in one way or another, like a wave wraps you up and you can no longer (or want) to leave”, says Aurianne, her eyes shining.

“When we were on the board, our goal was to reduce the workload because we were volunteering on the board and at the same time we were spending sixty hours a week on day-to-day administrative issues. And so we wanted to get to a place where we would have enough funds to have a volunteer board that had a very clear role that was clearly divided from the paid employees who took care of day-to-day work,” she adds.

"I feel like the centre is a second home" - Carina Pardela

“I first got involved with the centre as a volunteer. I went to high school in Portugal but they didn't give me equivalencies here in Canada and so I had to go to high school here, and I needed to complete forty hours of volunteer work to graduate. So I came to FPCCC for that very reason and after a few months, they were looking for a cook for the kitchen. And I wanted a job where I had time to take my daughter to school and pick her up. I wasn't exactly looking for a job as a cook, I had never cooked for so many people in my life, and I didn't have any experience! But I got lucky because the president who was there at the time hired me. And then, there came a time when I no longer worked here but they were looking for people to manage the centre and I wanted to come back and contribute in my own way. I convinced Aurianne to join me in the management team, we didn't even know each other! And that’s how we started a few years of intense work to change things in this place”, explains Carina, smiling.

Although the women started managing the organization during difficult times, they also had to deal with the pandemic and all the changes that came with it. They took advantage of all the government assistance given during the pandemic crisis and used a lot of imagination to maintain operations and continue helping the community. They also used this time to reduce costs (and even space) so they could grow better in 2022.

“On a personal level, the centre kept me sane during the pandemic. It was a support, a home, another place to visit that wasn't my home. I must admit it was a salvation. And even today, I feel like the centre is a second home”, says the director of operations with a smile on her lips.

Now with renovated spaces more accessible to people with reduced mobility, the two women hope to maintain their services and grow. Their goal is to be able to help 100 elderly people in the next few years. “We have the capacity to do so and welcome them”, explains Aurianne.

“We also want, in the next five years, to buy a space to reduce costs. It's not easy to find financing for a nonprofit. However, we are hopeful that this will happen and will be possible. I have no doubt that we will make it. We have already achieved a lot in recent years and I think we can continue to dream and work hard to achieve these dreams”, adds Carina.

There is a lot of pride in the voices of the two women when they talk about the FPCCC. In addition to helping the community around them every day, Carina Paradela and Aurianne Fazendeiro gave a new energy, full of hope, to a centre that creates deep human connections necessary to maintain a happy society.

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