Last week my nine-year-old son Kaden and I were Christmas shopping at Indigo when he spotted one of his favorite storybooks called, The Little Engine That Could. Kaden loved this story when he was younger and I can’t tell you how many times I read it to him at bedtime when he was a toddler. Kaden thought that it would be a perfect Christmas gift to give Evan, our next-door neighbour’s two-year-old son.

There are different versions, but Watty Piper’s is the most popular. For those of you not familiar with it, basically it’s the story of a long-stranded train that is unable to find an engine capable and willing to pull it over and down a large mountain. The train is filled with toys, food and candy treats for good girls and boys who live on the other side. None of the larger engines agree to help take the train to its destination; instead, they give excuses for why they will not or cannot help. Finally, a small engine agrees to help and succeeds while repeating the motto: “I think I can, I think I can.” The message of the story is that anything can be accomplished with a bit of optimism, hard work and perseverance.

I also thought the storybook was a perfect Christmas gift.

Being reminded of The Little Engine That Could, I thought how well this story metaphorically exemplifies the story of The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre’s (TGHC) journey towards its infrastructural renewal.

Reflecting back on the TGHC’s immediate history, I thought of how it wasn’t long ago that it was threatened with closure. There had been several attempts to do so. However, 2010 marked a turning point, and the provincial government and The Salvation Army reassessed their decision to close the hospital. They realized that the 119 beds at the TGHC are a vital component of an integrated health care system in Toronto and is very much needed in the growing community it serves. When the decision was finally made to keep the TGHC open, the hospital then began a difficult climb back toward developing its infrastructure renewal plans.

Over the last four years, the TGHC has taken a number of preparatory measures and followed these up with a number of submissions regarding its renovation plans to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care (MOHLTC) and the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). Each stage of the planning process was a challenge. But the TGHC persevered, following all the proper protocols set by the MOHLTC and the LHIN. Each stage has succeeded in moving the project forward and securing the funding needed for the renovations.

Concurrently, while making significant progress in the development of its renovation plans, the TGHC improved the quality of care it provides for its patients and their families, improvements that include medical upgrades, and enhanced clinical practices and equipment.

With the renewal plans becoming finalized, the TGHC recognized that its patients and staff could not remain at 650 Church Street during the renovation. With the co-operation and support of the University Health Network, the TGHC secured the Hillcrest site. However, the Hillcrest site needed upgrades before the TGHC could relocate. Upon the completion of those upgrades, on March 23, 2014, 200 staff, attendants and volunteers moved 91 patients, their beds, furniture and possessions from 650 Church Street to 47 Austin Terrance, the Hillcrest site, the TGHC’s temporary home.

In the spring of 2015 renovations should begin at 650 Church Street, which should take approximately two years before the project is completed. In the meantime, sustained by a dedicated staff, volunteers and health care partners the TGHC continue to persevere, providing excellent quality care for its patients and families while it makes its way up the mountain.

Before we left the store, Kaden asked if we could read the story. I was puzzled? “Kaden,” I said, “You’re nine years-old…you read chapter books.” “I know,” he said, “but it’s a good story and I liked it when we would read this story together.”

So we took a moment and sat down between the bookshelves. With Christmas music piping through the store and shoppers stepping over us, he read to me The Little Engine That Could.

Curious about his impressions now that he was older, I asked him after we were finished what his thoughts were about the story. He said, “It’s about helping, and if you think you can’t do something you’ve got to try. But,” he asked, “why didn’t those other powerful engines pull the little train, they could easily have helped?”

I told him I knew of a place that could use our help. I told him that the TGHC had a “Tree of Memories” and if we made a donation we could place a star on their tree in the name of someone we cared about. When we went to the TGHC, I explained that all the stars on the tree were for a donation and that each donation will help get the train over the mountain Kaden smiled knowingly and said, “I get it, Dad!”

As a freelance writer I have contributed articles for The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre’s (TGHC) annual reports as well as for their website. Over the last four years my involvement with the TGHC, the staff, patients and their families has been a very rewarding experience.

Merry Christmas!

Gerry Condotta