Peer mentoring a hallmark of the Jean Augustine Centre

By Lincoln DePradine

(From left) ‘Starbucks’ Dwayne Meikle and his daughter, Temperance, with
JAC’s Dr Jean Augustine, Emma Asiedu-Akrofi & Bryony Vander Wilp

Staff and volunteers at a facility named after Dr Jean Augustine, the retired former federal MP, are engaged in programs not only aimed at solidifying young people academically, but also taking care of their mental health.

One of the latest programs at the Jean Augustine Centre (JAC) for Young Women’s Empowerment is “LULU’’ – Look Up! Lift Up!

It’s a peer mentorship program designed to support the “mental health and personal development of girls’’, in the Greater Toronto Area, between the ages of seven and 17, and “who identify as Black, racialized or belonging to an underrepresented community’’.

“We just launched cohort 1 of this peer mentorship program,’’ JAC executive director Emma Asiedu-Akrofi told The Caribbean Camera.

The girls – mentees – are matched with young adult mentors ranging in age from 18 to 30.

“We want the mentees to see themselves in these mentors’’, and believe that they can become “whatever they so choose to be in this world’’, Asiedu-Akrofi said.

The JAC for Young Women’s Empowerment, located on Portland Street in Etobicoke, is named in honour of Augustine, who served as MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore from 1993 to 2006.

As a member of the Liberal Party government in Ottawa, she held several portfolios including parliamentary secretary to then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien; deputy speaker in the House of Commons; and minister of state for multiculturalism and the status of women.

The JAC, opened in June 2014, says its commitment is “building the self-esteem and self-worth of young women and girls by positively influencing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves’’.

Girls utilizing the centre have access to mentorship and empowerment initiatives, as well as other things such as free and subsidized after-school programs, camps and workshops.

The centre’s operations are supported by donors, including “community partners’’, and government and private sector funding sources.

A recent grant to the JAC was received from Starbucks Foundation.

Dwayne Meikle, a Starbucks district manager, made the presentation to Augustine and other JAC representatives at the centre’s Portland Street headquarters.

Meikle’s daughter Temperance, who also was present, is a former JAC program participant. She’s now one of its volunteers.

The Starbucks Foundation donation is “unrestricted funding and it will be used to support our after-school program’’, Asiedu-Akrofi explained. “This one will go to things such as purchasing program supplies and just general support of the program.’’

The peer mentorship, partly funded by the Canadian government’s Social Development Partnerships’ Program, attempts to address a lot of “inequalities and disparities’’ confronting young women and girls from Black, racialized and underrepresented communities, said Asiedu-Akrofi.

“We recognize that it’s important for them to have community and not to feel isolated, and to have the general support of people just a little bit older than them,’’ she said.

JAC, Asiedu-Akrofi said, remains in search of mentors for LULU.

“We are still actively looking for more. Because at the moment, we have more mentees than mentors,’’ she said.

For more information on the peer mentorship program, or to volunteer as a mentor, call 416-253-9797; or Email