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Innisfil Community Foundation, sharing 'good news' stories of giving and community

'Collaboration is more important than ever,' says executive director

The Innisfil Community Foundation (ICF) was established not only to support Innisfil organizations and charities financially, but to improve the quality of life in Innisfil, create partnerships and encourage collaboration – and that’s what the virtual Information Sharing meeting on Wednesday night was all about.

Fifteen out of 17 recipients of ICF grants participated online, via ZOOM, sharing information on their organizations and how the grant money has helped them serve the community.

The ICF was registered by the Town of Innisfil, to help disburse funds from the OLG slots and casino at Georgian Downs. As host community, Innisfil had been receiving millions of dollars in annual payments, and since 2013, began setting aside approximate $100,000 per year in a reserve for charitable purposes.

In 2018, with the reserve standing at $1 million, the town decided to establish a community foundation, which would administer the Inspiring Innisfil grant program, and use income generated by funds held in trust to create a sustainable source of financial support for not-for-profit and charitable organizations.

A board of directors was appointed in 2019, that included Chair Sandra Rizzardo, Vice Chair Howard Courtney, President/Secretary Anne Kell, and Treasurer Anne Smith. In its first year, the ICF has distributed $129,575 in grants to 17 successful applicants.

“We’re very proud of that,” said Jenn Rae, executive director and emcee of the online meeting. As for the evening itself, she said, “We just think it’s really important that the charities that are doing such important work in the community know what each other are doing… Collaboration is more important than ever.”

Jennifer Hay of the Friendship Circle was the first to speak, explaining that The Friendship Circle is “a community-based circle supporting people with special needs in our community. Our vision is just to work with those people to develop real friendships in a safe environment.”

The grant funding has allowed the group to purchase professional curriculum materials for those with developmental challenges, and to partner with Gloria Noseworthy and the Crossroads program for adults with challenges.

“The whole plan is that we’ll be meeting weekly at Innisfil Community Church,” Hay said, bringing together volunteers and “friends” once COVID restrictions are lifted. “I can’t wait to get the program up and running.”

For Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County, which transitioned from in-person counselling and programs to online services, the grant has helped purchase equipment needed to deliver virtual programming.

The agency’s regular funding “is really specific to the services and supporting the staff,” said Executive Director Michelle Bergin, leaving little in the budget for technology. The ICF grant purchased equipment for a counsellor providing services that include support for couples and families, and mental health supports, within the Town of Innisfil.

Innisfil’s Christmas for Kids, now C4Kids, “helps families that are living in poverty in the community,” said founder Myrlene Boken, and has evolved over the past 25 years – from just a Christmas program, ensuring local children received a visit from Santa, to an agency that works to meet the needs of its families all year round.

Currently there are approximately 150 Innisfil families on its contact list, with 400 or so people receiving assistance at any one time, Boken said. The situation has been made more acute by COVID-19.

“A lot of families were finding themselves in very complicated situations” as a result of COVID, she noted – dealing with health issues, new babies, unemployment, uncertain shelter and food insecurity, as children stayed home from school. At least 30 families were in need of “intense help,” she said.

“It wasn’t like the past, where you could give them a $50 gift card and say, here you go, this will help you over the hump,” Boken noted. The ICF grant helped provide consistent support, including food, diapers, and transportation to and from hospital. “Without the foundation money, we would have had a really hard time coming up with the funding.”

It was a similar story at Shine Through the Rain Foundation, which helps patients diagnosed with life-threatening conditions, and their families. Although the foundation provides assistance across Canada, the ICF funds went to help Innisfil residents, who were “the most vulnerable low-income patients,” said Laurie Docimo, Sponsorship & Grants.

Funds helped provide grocery gift cards, pay overdue utility bills and rent for patients “on the verge of eviction,” Docimo said. 

“The funding we have received has gone toward housing security, COVID security,” said Jennifer Fleury of CONTACT South Simcoe community services – not only providing personal protective equipment, but helping to address issues of homelessness or housing insecurity during the pandemic.

CONTACT operates a thrift store and housing office in Alliston, and an employment centre in Bradford. With the help of the ICF grant, it now offers housing support in Innisfil, operating out of the Rizzardo Health & Wellness Centre on Wednesdays – support that includes the Fresh Start program, providing furniture, housewares, a moving truck, even the “last month’s rent” for those in need.

There are over 600 families who are experiencing housing issues in South Simcoe, Fleury said. “It’s a massive, massive problem.”

For Gilda’s Club of Simcoe-Muskoka, a social club for those with cancer, and their families, the ICF grant helped purchase the equipment needed to go “virtual.”

“We’re dealing with an immune compromised community,” noted Aaron Lutes, executive director – but Gilda’s lacked the equipment to take its programs online. The ICF grant paid for technology that allows Gilda’s Club to now provide online programming to over 650 individuals in Simcoe County, connections that include grief counselling.

“The support we received provided stability,” Lutes said, opening the door for greater collaboration with other local agencies.

Independent Living Services used their funding to help pay for assistive devices for seniors and persons with disabilities, living at home – several in Innisfil, including one man who became house-bound after his motorized scooter broke down.

“With COVID-19 it’s been a real stretch. It’s been a real Godsend, to get organizations like ICF to help out,” said Manager of Senior Services Tami Tarini.

The Barrie office of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO) in 1984; at the time, was known as the Canadian Paraplegic Association. SCIO provides direct services to those with spinal cord injuries and their families, from home modifications to peer support.

“With COVID, that really slowed that down,” said Heather Hollingshead, SCIO regional services co-ordinator - although many programs have been able to shift to on-line.

The ICF grant “is to help Innisfil residents,” Hollingshead said, from increased virtual peer support, to equipment, and PPE for home visits. “Our biggest role is following up in the community,” she said, and working with other organizations to provide supports for patients. “I appreciate Innisfil’s investment in their lives.”

At the YMCA, closed due to COVID, the agency was losing touch with youth at risk, despite offering virtual programming. The ICF funding allowed the Y to retain a staff member to do a “warm hand-off” and contact participating youth, to see how they are doing, and what they need.

“We have a co-ordinator, thanks to this grant, to connect the youth,” said Kate Meeks, general manager of philanthropy and fundraising, thanking ICF for providing a “new opportunity to be able to provide for the youth in Innisfil.”

Innisfil Community Church used its funding to establish an outdoor meeting space, with 25 picnic tables and umbrellas and free PPE, to remove “some of the barriers to getting together”  during the pandemic for other church groups and organizations.

The funds provided to the Royal Victoria Hospital Foundation helped purchase a ventilator; money given to Stevenson Memorial Hospital in Alliston – where six percent of patients come from Innisfil – was used to help purchase a “powered air purifying respirator, that’s helped us and is continuing to help us with our PPE shortage.” 

Youth Haven, Simcoe County’s only emergency shelter for youth between the ages of 16 and 24, has continued to deliver its services, despite COVID-19, from crisis intervention to referrals  to  ‘Care Packages’ for homeless youth, noted Executive Director Lucy Gowers.

ICF funding paid for PPE, supplies for the ‘Care Packages’ and groceries. “Your support inspires hope… creating a positive and lasting change,” said Gower. “Together we are making a tremendous change in the lives of many… We live in a generous community.”

Other recipients included Candlelighters of Simcoe County, Matthews House Hospice and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

The grant received by CMHA was used to help launch peer support services in Innisfil, to address the “social and emotional and practical side of mental health,” said Peer Support Consultant Hayley Peek, rather than only the clinical side. “That human to human connection is very powerful.”

Considering the impact of the pandemic on mental health, “It’s really important to meet someone who’s been down that road,” added Aleta Armstrong, senior manager of community awareness & resource development. 

In addition to the Town of Innisfil/OLG funding, the ICF is also helping to distribute federal Emergency Community Support Funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $350 million federal fund provides support for non-profit organizations, distributed through The Canadian Red Cross, United Way, and Community Foundations of Canada.

MP for Barrie-Innisfil, John Brassard welcomed the organizations to the virtual meeting, and reminded them that applications for the latest round of Emergency Community Support Fund grants are due by Oct. 31.

“Please don’t leave it to the last minute,” said Brassard, adding that his staff are available to assist with the applications.

The ICF has received $50,000 from the program to distribute in November. For more information, click here.