Building Bridges into the Community with Robotics

Malvern is located in the northeast corner of Toronto. It is one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in Canada with over sixty different cultures represented including Caribbean Canadians (mostly Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Guyanese) and South Asian Canadians (mostly Sri Lankan Tamil, Indian and Pakistani).  Malvern also has the highest concentration of 12 to 24 year-olds in Canada.

The neighbourhood has changed significantly since Malvern Methodist Church was built in 1997, shares Pastor Michael Morris, “When the church was built, 40% of the neighbourhood was West Indian, but today 17.5% is West Indian, and 40% is Sri Lankan.  Also, the neighbourhood is filled with young people, and 90% of our congregation are seniors. We don’t really represent the community anymore.”


In 2005, the church built and opened a youth centre because there were no recreation facilities in Malvern.  “We had hundreds of kids using the facility every week. Then the City of Toronto built a massive community centre right around the corner from the church, and that was all she wrote. Now we have this facility that is not being used.”

Malvern Methodist wants to live up to its vision: “To be a light in the community demonstrating Christ’s love and caring for all.”  

The church community is actively seeking ways to reach the young people of Malvern in meaningful and relevant ways. They are also leveraging what they have. “Malvern believes in engaging in partnerships. We have a facility, volunteers, funds and other resources we can use.  We aren’t experts in every field, but we can find experts and partner with them to be a light in this neighbourhood.” 

Malvern has hosted summer and March break camps for the past several years.  They have partnered with Tim Hortons to fund the camps, and networked in the community to find additional volunteers.  Last year, when Michael heard about FIRST Robotics Canada he knew he wanted to bring them to Malvern. FIRST Robotics’, a registered charity, offers opportunities for students, working in teams and assisted by expert adult mentors, to build robots and to take part in tournaments which feature competitions, awards and other forms of recognition, including university and college scholarships. Michael knew it was fit for the neighbourhood, “Anything to do with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is popular right now, and FIRST Robotics camps is an opportunity to reach all the kids in the community regardless of their religion or ethnicity.”

Malvern hosted a FIRST Robotics open house to introduce the idea to the neighbourhood. “We had 200 people here including FIRST Robotics people, politicians, teachers, volunteers and kids. We started nine FIRST Robotics teams in Malvern.  We hosted two here at the church and the rest were in hosted schools so we could touch every corner of the community.”

On June 22nd, Malvern Methodist held a huge event to showcase and exhibit what the teams had created.  Michael’s goal is for FIRST Robotics to form six more teams each for the next five years. To make that happen he has contacted the University of Toronto – Scarborough Campus and Centennial College in the hopes of recruiting volunteer team leaders.  He is also reaching out to corporations asking for team sponsorships. “This has been a great experience for our church community and one we want to continue to grow. FIRST Robotics camps allow us to build relationships and bridges into the community.  Then we will build bridges into the church.”

To learn more about FIRST Robotics here:

By Alison McKinnon

FMCiC Writer