In March 2002, when I joined the Columbus Centre (CC), it was a safe haven and an important way for me to stay focused, calm and healthy. You see, my Holocaust Survivor father had just had a major stroke, and I needed all my strength to bear the unbearable, and weather the storms to come.
Our long-time athletic director Jan Sebek welcomed me with open arms, and squash and our squash league became my immediate salvation. I made new friends. I ate in the cafeteria. I enjoyed our art gallery. I went to the gym. I built a tall, cat climber for my feline; two CC members chipped in, and Tony, our maintenance manager who plays a mean accordion, lent me a staple gun to secure the carpeting to the structure. When our parking system was first introduced, and mayhem prevailed, I helped direct members and guests for weeks to come.
CC became a second home to me, and I became an ambassador and advocate. As I grew up with Italians at the corner of Briar Hill and Marlee Avenues, the fit was seamless. I belonged, and I would add, so does everyone.
Our community is warm, diverse and accepting with members who come from or have roots in Europe, South America, The Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia/Oceania. In other words, our membership represents the world.
For Holocaust Education Week 2010, I presented with an all-Albanian team to a 400-strong audience at the elegant Sala Caboto. Our original venue could not accommodate our multi-media presentation, so I asked our then President/CEO for help. He graciously donated the venue, and closed our spectacular evening. Many in our community attended.
In August 2013, I focused on Habitat for Humanity GTA, Women’s Build, and the generous support I received from CC staff and members helped me become that year’s Top Individual Fundraiser. Some of my most cherished memories are of collecting loonies and toonies from nonnas; you could hear my pockets jingling throughout the gym!
June 2017 saw the peaceful passing of 96-year-old Jacqueline Garsonnin. She frequented Caffè Cinquecento every Tuesday night for dinner with her son, Eric. To commemorate her life on Facebook, Eric posted a lovely photo of his mother standing gently beside a luminous wall of art at our main entrance.
My question to all of you is, do we need to change everything, and make it new and shiny? Does new automatically equate to better? The answer is a resounding no. And I am not alone in my desire to keep CC as is, and to preserve, regenerate and rejuvenate the existing structure, inside and out.
And let’s not forget about our glorious park. It’s sacred ground for many, including wedding parties, and the birds and squirrels who drink from our fountain and live in our trees. Our wildlife gratefully receive food from a multitude of community feeders. In fact, our squirrels are so tame, some eat out of your hand and follow you to your car!
Let’s venerate our prodigious history, and all of our important experiences, friendships and shared memories. Let’s continue to celebrate what we’ve built and nurtured over the years at the Columbus Centre. For me, it’s simple. There’s no place like home.
Vera N. Held, M.Ed.,
President, VNH Communications