Pinball heads at-risk youth fund

Mike

Mike "Pinball" Clemons speaks at a news conference where it was announced he will chair the Youth Challenge Fund. (Toronto Sun/Dave Thomas)

ALAN FINDLAY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

Toronto Argonauts coach Mike "Pinball" Clemons joined Ontario's crime-fighting team yesterday.

Clemons agreed to chair a $15-million provincial fund that aims to help keep kids in troubled Toronto neighbourhoods away from guns and gangs.

Premier Dalton McGuinty unveiled the Youth Challenge Fund yesterday at an East York community centre, where Clemons called on everyone from clergy to community "worker bees" to stem the violence in 13 targeted neighbourhoods.

"Our challenge here is to understand the sense of urgency," Clemons told the gathering at Jenner Jean- Marie Community Centre. "We need everyone in our community to get involved."

A board of directors, yet to be chosen, will oversee the $15-million fund, attempt to raise an additional $15 million from private donors and choose which programs to support. Money raised privately will be matched by the province for a fund total of up to $45 million.

McGuinty said the goal of the fund, in concert with other recent government initiatives such as more police, is to keep kids away from gangs and violence.

"We're going to do all we can to prevent violence in the first place by ... giving (young people) the opportunities they deserve," he said.

Successes in combating violence among youth in the U.S. and the United Kingdom were not achieved in a government meeting room, McGuinty said.

"Ultimately, the strength will come from the community itself," he said.

Rev. Don Meredith, chairman of the GTA Faith Alliance, said Clemons is an ideal choice to lead the new fund.

"They couldn't have picked a better man," he said.

The fund will open doors for young people rather than close them, Meredith said.

"We need to see our kids not expelled from schools but put into programs," he said.

Conservative Leader John Tory welcomed the initiative and accused McGuinty of lifting it from his own plan to address youth violence.


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