Supporting Black Youth Leadership in United Church Camping
Winston and Merle Roach were church leaders in East Toronto. They took active roles within their Eastminster United Church community of faith, in regional and national church bodies and in community based social ministries for 50 years. They raised a family of two girls and two boys in their Riverdale home. They welcomed to Canada, sheltered under their wings, and helped settle extended family and friends from Jamaican and the Caribbean diaspora. In fact, their community included hundreds of others: members of their congregation, Winston’s students, Merle’s clients, Mico Alumni, and the beneficiaries of their extensive community service.
Along with many other causes, Winston and Merle were annual supporters of the Camping Opportunities Fund which provides subsidies to families needing help to send their children to a United Church camping program.
In 2020, after their parents’ passing, Winston and Merle’s children established a fund to memorialize their parents’ commitment to the church’s care of neighbours and to continue their lifelong advocacy for Black Ontarians’ equitable access to opportunities, services and experiences enjoyed by mainstream society. They also wanted children of the diaspora to experience and appreciate outdoor camping traditions. They established The Winston and Merle Roach Camp Leadership Fund at The Toronto United Church Council in order to encourage the hiring of Black youth as staff of the church’s camps. The fund will encourage change within a system established primarily to serve the White community. It will also help the camps build a strong team of youthful Black role models that will not only benefit the next generation of campers but will benefit the next generation of community leaders and stewards of the land. Thus, benefiting us all.
Following their acceptance of the gift at a TUCC Board meeting in October, the December meeting saw directors vote to ensure that the new fund has enough income in its first three years (2021 to 2023) to sponsor new grants to the camps. From 2024, the annual investment income from the Fund will underwrite the hiring of Black youth as camp leaders at Shining Waters Region camps.