Finding community in a city of outsiders

Guest blog post by Jonathan Nehmetallah, WoodGreen’s Young Leaders Council

I moved to Toronto a little over 5 years ago after I had finished law school. I was an outsider to the city, which isn’t all that unusual in a city largely made of outsiders. Still, I was eager to fit into my new job, neighbourhood and city that I would call home. I was eager to find some comfort and belonging in my new surroundings.

After some time, I had developed—or was beginning to develop—a social network that was providing meaningful work and important mentorship from my colleagues, and supportive and enjoyable friendships with my neighbours.

While I was increasingly fitting into my new life, I needed to find a way to fit into the broader community that was Toronto. Of course, the nature of the task was different. While fitting into a job or neighbourhood is fundamentally a personal endeavour that requires one to engage personally with the individuals in their immediate proximity, fitting into the broader community would be another matter.

A friend and colleague introduced me to the WoodGreen. The WoodGreen Foundation was looking to form a board sub-committee called the Young Leaders Council, made of up emerging leaders who are championing social change and building awareness of the critical role social service plays in Toronto – addressing homelessness, poverty and inequality. He thought I would be a fit.

While I was honoured he had nominated me, I really did not know of the work WoodGreen was doing in the community. After a bit of research, I discovered that WoodGreen is one of the largest social service agencies in Toronto, serving 37,000 people each year. WoodGreen helps people find safe, affordable housing, seniors live independently, parents access childcare, newcomers settle in to Canadian life, and much more. This was an organization that was making Toronto a better place to live – no matter who you were or what your particular struggles were. Immediately, I began to recognize WoodGreen’s work in the community and noticed its numerous buildings around the city. I seized the opportunity.

Now that I’ve been a part of the Young Leaders Council for just over a year, I feel an immense sense of joy and accomplishment when I think of the work WoodGreen does in Toronto and how this Council has helped to spread the word. In the first year of existence, the group hosted educational panels on executive leadership, participated in Foundation Board meetings, got to know some key players in the philanthropic community, hosted an event on World Homeless Day introducing WoodGreen to young professionals, re-imagined monthly giving as Subscribe for Good to increase millennial engagement, and I personally hosted one of two virtual cooking classes to generate COVID-relief funds with Chef Matt Dean Pettit.

I am gratified to know that I am a small part of such an important organization that is working every day to make Toronto a better place and improving the lives of thousands of Torontonians. I am proud of the work of our Young Leaders Council, made up of some truly impressive young professionals I might not have met otherwise.

Fitting into Toronto has been different for me than fitting in at my job or in my immediate neighbourhood. It isn’t as easy as simply building friendships with those around me. I now know that fitting into the city involved working to make the city a better place for everyone. Working towards a more inclusive Toronto has given me a sense of ownership and belonging. Working with WoodGreen has helped me accomplish that and now I have the privilege of helping others fit better into this city we all call home.

WoodGreen’s Young Leaders Council is now accepting nominations and applications for new members. If you are interested, please reach out to Stacey Baker at