Centre founder moves on

After helping to create the Fairlawn Neighbourhood Centre, Anne Rawson steps down

How do you build a community?

“It’s easy if you just say, ‘Hey, I think this is a good idea, I could make this happen,’ ” said Anne Rawson, co-founder of the Fairlawn Neighbourhood Centre.

“All you need is the vision and the desire to do it.”

After almost 15 years of work Rawson officially stepped down as the centre’s executive director at an event in her honour on Jan. 6.

Rawson began planning the centre in 1995 with a few of her neighbours. The centre was launched two years later at the Fairlawn Avenue United Church where it quickly flourished.

Today the centre has over 2,600 active members who teach or attend over 100 different programs and classes. The centre is entirely funded by the community around it.

Thanks to a large fundraising effort around the centre’s 10th anniversary Rawson and her colleagues were able to start programs for communities outside of Fairlawn including a music program. The fund to support it has been re-named in Rawson’s honour.

“(Fairlawn is) a very generous community,” said Rawson of the centre’s outreach work. “We’re able to reach between 1,500 to 2,000 kids per year (in the outreach programs).”

In addition to offering programs, the community centre Rawson helped to build acted as the hub of the community playing host to many different events.

Rawson’s favourites are those that bring community members of all ages together under one roof including the Pet Fair.

“We’d have contests for all kinds of pets. Dogs, for example, like ‘Most Talented’ or ‘Worst Breath’ and we’d have 10 dogs registered in every category,” she said.

“Kids as young as two all the way up to seniors — everyone got involved.”

Another event Rawson described as the height of community is the biannual Dining With the Stars event. This event, in collaboration with the Yonge-Lawrence BIA, sees 18 local restaurants set up shop in the church.

“We turn over the whole building, decorate and have live music in every room,” she said.

The next Dining With the Stars event is May 6 and Rawson says she is looking forward to attending without the responsibility of helming the ship but adds that she did volunteer for the early wine shift.

Rawson is humble about her achievements but cites the happy lessons she’s learned about the people around her.

“The wonderful discovery was the wealth of energy and talent that is in the community and that when you put the right energy into something it’s quite interesting how it tends to attract like-minded people,” she said.

As for the future, Rawson isn’t sure what’s next.

“Community-building is something I adore doing. I’m hoping somewhere, somehow I can do that again,” said Rawson, who has been succeeded at the centre by Naomi Schafler.

“Sometimes when you’re in engaged in something like the centre for as long as I have been you need to empty before you figure out what your next step is,” said Rawson.

With that in mind the 58-year-old mother of two is about to embark on a 10-week backpacking tour through South-East Asia.

About this article:

By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: Jan 20 2010 3:03 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto