Meet Two of Toronto Community Benefits Network’s New Ambassadors
In June, Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) kicked off its 2023 Community Benefits Ambassadors program. TCBN, a grantee partner of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, works to ensure that Toronto’s construction projects provide jobs to immigrants, refugees, women, and other groups underrepresented in the sector. The Ambassadors are emerging leaders in the construction industry.
This year, TCBN is working with 25 Ambassadors who will support community engagement and campaign activities to advance TCBN’s mission. The Community Benefits Ambassadors will gain access to knowledge, skills, and resources to promote opportunities in the skilled trades and ensure inclusive economic prospects and community benefits in neighbourhoods across Toronto. The Ambassadors will be organizing and chairing meetings of local community benefits coalitions, attending town halls, building relationships with Indigenous communities, tabling at community events, and more. TCBN is helping to create a community of practice of emerging leaders in community benefits organizing that can tackle broader systems change.
One of the new Ambassadors, Melissa Alexander, a carpenter, first got involved with TCBN through its Next Gen mentorship program after she was released from prison in 2017 and began her career in carpentry. Now, in her role as an Ambassador, Melissa focuses on building community and connecting people. Melissa’s dedication to community service earned her the 2023 YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award in Community Service, and she continues to make an impact by sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.
“I am passionate about serving the community and advocating for the mental health of marginalized groups, especially those who have experienced incarceration,” she says.
As a child of immigrants, she understands the challenges immigrants face and actively supports individuals who have trades backgrounds from their home countries. Her father, a mechanic, motivated Melissa to enter the trades.
As a woman in a male-dominated field, she helps women recognize their value in these industries and encourages more women to pursue careers in construction. In her Ambassador role, Melissa interacts with various individuals, including politicians, people interested in the trades, incarcerated individuals, young people, and mental health community groups. She strives to raise awareness and bring about positive change within the industry, which can offer job security and economic mobility for all.
Another 2023 Ambassador, Wondwossen Fekyibelu, first got connected with TCBN in 2021, through its Newcomer Pathways into Construction program, supported by the Fund. The program offered him an opportunity to network and connect with a large construction company in Toronto. He now works as a Quality Coordinator at Crosslinx Transit Solutions.
“Despite having years of experience working in the construction sector internationally, it was tough for a newcomer like myself to get into the industry without having a network,” Wondwossen says. “After I was unsuccessful in my efforts to find a job, I joined TCBN which led me to interview opportunities, and now, my current job.”
Now, as a TCBN Community Benefits Ambassador, Wondwossen is excited to share knowledge and information in the community and to support other newcomers in their employment journeys.
The WES Mariam Assefa Fund recognizes the importance of supporting programs like the Community Benefits Ambassadors, as they amplify the voices of community leaders, acknowledge their achievements, and provide them with a platform to share their experiences. The Fund is committed to the growth of this program, as it holds the potential to create lasting change in the construction industry and in our local communities across Toronto and beyond.