Shelldale Family Gateway: A Place for Children and Youth in Onward Willow

The SDG Cities Academy is a supported, peer-to-peer training opportunity developed and delivered by SDG Cities. The course offered organizations, businesses and individuals a chance to deepen their knowledge about the SDGs and learn how to apply the principles and practices of the framework at the local level. As part of the training Academy participants explore alignment of their work with the SDG framework and dig into their local impact.

Shelldale Family Gateway is a community hub for children, youth and their families in the Onward Willow Neighbourhood built on a vision for healthy children, healthy families and a healthy community. 

Onward Willow is a priority neighbourhood in Guelph-Wellington. Priority neighbourhoods are determined based on social determinants of health indicators including: income, education, social and community support, housing, immigration and early childhood development (Source). As a priority neighbourhood, Onward Willow has a high level of need and diversity as well as an incredible opportunity to build a supportive and caring community for all. Shelldale Family Gateway, through various iterations, has been at the heart of it.

Kids at Shelldale Family Gateway after school program. Photo by Jonathon Barraball

Improved Wellbeing for Children and Youth 

Children and youth are the most significant focus for Shelldale Family Gateway. One of the early program directors, Jassy Narayan described her vision for a place where “children to be nurtured and cared for in layers of support – within their families, in all program areas, in their school, and in the community.” This focus addressed a number of SDGs and improve health and wellbeing for children, youth and their families.

As a provider of provincially funded EarlyON programs, for children 0-6 years old, there is a commitment to supporting early childhood development and education. Early childhood support is also provided through programs for new mothers, single mothers and families during the important early years of life.  

A diverse offering of programming for school aged youth is available, including breakfast programs, after school activities, teen drop-in and camps. Through these programs kids explore art, sports, cooking and have the opportunity to connect, build confidence, learn social skills and create lasting relationships. Peer mentoring and leadership programs are also central. The programs currently offered at Shelldale Family Gateway support over 500 children and provide summer job opportunities for youth from the community. 

“Shelldale Family Gateway is where I feel safe and never judged”.

M 14YO in an evaluation survey conducted for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant.

The legacy of programming and community care at Shelldale is evidenced by the lasting impact on youth in the neighbourhood with many program participants staying on as staff and program leads as they get older. Participants nurtured through programming at Shelldale Family Gateway also go on to make positive contributions throughout the community.

“Today I see youth who were participants in our programs out in the border community – in after school jobs, school activities and volunteering. I am so proud of them and the community that supported them. Now from the outside, I see positivity, leadership and responsibility which comes when the opportunity gap for children is reduced…” 

Former Shelldale Family Gateway Program Director, Lorna Schwartzentuber 

A Foundation of Inclusive Community Development 

For over 25 years, Shelldale Family Gateway – previously the Onward Willow Better Beginnings, Better Futures – has practiced inclusive community development on the ground in a priority neighbourhood. A book published about the organizations journey called Realizing the Dream: the story of Better Beginnings, Better Futures in Guelph tells the story of collaboration, transformation and vision that has made Shelldale Family Gateway what it is today – a success story, and a model for inclusive, child and youth focused community development. 

Kids at Shelldale Family Gateway after school program. Photo by Jonathon Barraball

Over the years, programming at Shelldale Family Gateway has aimed to reduce inequalities and address the needs of local children and youth. Supportive and reciprocal partnerships with community and service delivery organizations have helped to created a community hub, with layers of support for children and their families.

While being a hub for youth and their families, Shelldale Family Gateway also plays an important role in connecting community members to essential services. This is even more important in the Onward Willow neighborhood with many low income families and new immigrants who may find it hard to leave the community to access the resources and services they need. The principle of reciprocal relationships and integrated services have been important when developing relationships. Providers offering mental health services, child care, literacy and skills training, community safety and other social services have developed close partnerships with Shelldale Family Gateway over the years. 

Shelldale Family Gateway Today

Today, partnerships continue to flourish. In 2021, a partnership with the SEED, a project of the Guelph Community Health Centre, initiated development of Shelldale Farm Park, a hub for community food programming run by Kindle Communities, that includes accessible raised beds, and a community kitchen. The community is busy imagining future plans for food related programming across the site. Additionally, Shelldale Family Gateway is currently working closely with The Grove Hubs, to provide on-site mental health and addictions counselling for youth aged 12-26. This is a very exciting development we hope to see come to fruition in the near future.

Shelldale Family Gateway has recently completed a 3 year strategic plan. Built on a strong foundation, Shelldale Family Gateway continues to grow ensuring that opportunities are available to ALL children and youth, including those from a seriously marginalized communities.

“We continue our focus on SDGs, ensuring our work reflects decreasing poverty and inequalities while simultaneously increasing access to a variety of supports for our children and youth so that they may fulfill the promise of a bright future.”

Shelldale Family Gateway Executive Director, Diana Boal
Kids at Shelldale Family Gateway after school program. Photo by Jonathon Barraball

Support Shelldale Family Gateway

Shelldale Family Gateway prides itself on our ability to attract and retain amazing volunteers. If there are any areas where you think you might be able to or would like to help, please connect with us at

Given that we receive no sustainable funding for our Child & Youth programming, we are always more than happy to discuss donations with you and/or your company. Please feel free to contact Executive Director Diana Boal at to initiate a conversation about how we can work together to help continue to bring the SDGs to Onward Willow.Outside of the provincially funded EarlyON program, all of the programs offered by Shelldale Family Gateway are funded through grants, donations and community support. Check out the ways you can support the inspiring community focused work at Shelldale Family Gateway.

Follow Shelldale Family Gateway:

Twitter: @shelldalefg

Instagram @ShelldaleFG

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