Healing in the Playground
On June 14, 2018, two young girls playing in their Alton Towers co-op playground were caught in the crossfire of a daytime shooting and injured. Michelle Colthrust, a longtime resident of the Alton Towers co-op, held her breath. Having lost a loved one to gun violence herself, Michelle understood the impact this would have, not only on the girls, but on the entire neighbourhood.
The Alton Towers co-op is located off of Alton Towers Circle in the Milliken neighbourhood of northern Scarborough. Compared to the single family homes that make up the rest of the neighbourhood, there is a stigma associated with living in neighbourhood’s apartment buildings and co-op townhouses, which have unfairly been labelled as unsafe by outsiders.
Michelle knows that these perceptions are not true. She has observed how co-op meetings foster a shared sense of community amongst residents. This was no more true than on the day of the shooting.
Everybody was outside. Everybody was helping, everybody was supporting, everybody was hugging each other. So there wasn’t a case of ‘I didn’t see anything and I didn’t hear anything.’ Everybody was supporting.
— Michelle Colthrust
The shooting shook the community. Neighbours no longer felt safe letting their children out to play. But Michelle didn’t want the incident to define the community. A social service worker, Michelle connected with a City of Toronto crisis counsellor who was able to assist her co-op board in securing funding for a community picnic, with the hopes of making the park feel like a safe place for the neighbourhood children again. Michelle and other organizers were unsure if holding the picnic at the park would be too triggering, but the community came out. One of the two injured girls slid down the slide and was met with applause from the crowd.
Michelle explains: “It was more of me explaining to the community my loss from gun violence and me understanding the fears that may be brought up, and just providing resources. Because, again, I felt those are the things I would have wanted and needed, so now’s my opportunity to give back.”
The event became an opportunity for neighbours to connect and talk about how they were feeling, and what they wanted for the community. A year later, the co-op is still on its path to healing, but you can hear the children playing again.