Breathing easier

Researchers at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton are hoping lung cancer patients will live longer, healthier lives thanks to an “electronic nose” that uses their breath to tell if cancer has returned after surgery.

Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths in Canada than colorectal, breast and prostate cancer combined. Surgery is the favoured treatment, but recurrence rates are high. Currently, hospitals screen for lung cancer recurrence using expensive, time-consuming, uncomfortable CT scans, which expose patients to risky levels of radiation.

A research grant from HCF’s Community Health, Education and Research Fund is supporting the study of a new method at St. Joseph’s called a liquid biopsy that is less expensive, painless, radiation-free, and can be conducted from the comfort of a patient’s home. Best of all, it may lead to earlier recurrence detection than a CT scan.

If successful, St. Joseph’s would be the first Canadian medical centre to use liquid biopsies to detect lung cancer. The two-year project will continue until summer 2025.

From Fall 2023 Legacy Newsletter

Playing it safe

All kids need a chance to play, especially those coming out of domestic violence situations. An Interval House program is connecting vulnerable children and youth to recreational activities in a safe and affordable way.

Last year, the program was offered only to shelter residents. Now, an HCF grant is helping to expand it to all rural and urban Hamilton families who are escaping domestic violence and abusive situations and accessing Interval House services.

When families are experiencing violence, children may not be able to enroll in community-based programs and sports. This can negatively affect their connection with peers as well as their physical, emotional and mental health.

Safety and cost are significant barriers to participation in community activities for these children. The Interval House program ensures affordability through partnerships with recreation organizations and access to equipment and transportation. Partnerships with Hamilton Police Services and the Children’s Aid Society also ease safety concerns.

From Fall 2023 Legacy Newsletter

Mini-forests, big impact

Two years ago, the first mini-forests took root in Hamilton.

Purposefully designed, mini-forests consist of densely planted native tree species that mimic the complexity of a naturally evolved forest. The reason? To restore biodiversity.

Two recent grants from HCF support the mini-forests project from Green Venture. One supports planting new trees and stewarding existing mini-forests. Another helps fund research to measure growth, soil structure and ecological outcomes.

At the heart of this project is the “Miyawaki method” — named after Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki — which involves planting native tree species at very high densities. The result, which has been successfully applied all over the world, is a diverse forest that develops over a relatively short period.

By next spring, Green Venture hopes to plant 600 trees at Johnson Tews Park and 100 more across the grounds of Dundas Central Public School. The project also involves education workshops and engagement with students at the school.

Researching the efficacy of the Miyawaki method in Hamilton is also key to Green Venture’s success, since there are no established best practices for mini-forests in Canada yet. Green Venture plans to evaluate its existing mini- forests and other examples in Canada, as well as to conduct research to determine how the community perceives the value of the project.

“Restoring biodiversity is crucial for Hamilton,” says Rudi Wallace, Vice-President of Grants & Community Initiatives. “A greater tree canopy in our community is important and we’re glad to support this environmentally focused project that also engages residents.”

From Fall 2023 Legacy Newsletter

In it for the long run

Good things come to those who wait. For a recent opportunity in HCF’s impact investment portfolio that wait will be 22 years, as it provides “patient capital” to help acquire two local residential properties and secure 31 units of permanent affordable housing.

Patient capital refers to investments in projects that take time to reach their potential. Although HCF won’t see the full return on investment until 2044, this project, at King Street East and Tisdale Avenue, fits into the Foundation’s strategy to rebuild a healthy affordable housing sector today. The $1 million investment with New Market Funds — a fund management firm focused on opportunities that benefit communities — will help to secure properties that might otherwise be acquired by the private sector. As New Market’s Derek Ballantyne told the CBC, “It helps low- income tenants have some predictability over what the rents will be like over the longer term and, obviously, some stability in their housing.”

Recent data underscores the importance of retaining Hamilton’s affordable housing stock. The Foundation’s latest Vital Signs report shows that Hamilton lost more than 15,000 affordable units in the private market (rent $750 per month or under) between 2011 and 2021. More than 9,000 units that rent between $750 and $1,000 per month were also lost.

Yulena Wan, HCF’s Vice-President of Finance & Operations, says that the ability to provide patient capital is one benefit of an endowment. “While no single offering can solve the problem, it is important that we act on what is possible,” says Yulena. “HCF’s endowment model makes us uniquely positioned to use more of our capital for good.”

From Fall 2023 Legacy Newsletter

A charitable harvest

For Joan Lindley, or “Grandma Joan” as she likes to be called, farming has been not just a way of life, but a generational legacy — one that includes philanthropy.

The Lindley family supports the Hamilton Spectator Summer Camp Fund at HCF which funds summer camperships for children whose families could not otherwise afford the costs.

This charitable endeavour reflects the passions of Joan’s late husband, Peter, or “Pickin’ Pete”, who attended camp as a boy. His desire was for other kids to be able to have the same opportunity to bond with nature, engage in healthy competition and develop outdoor skills.

The Lindleys have been farming in Halton and Wentworth for eight generations, specializing in strawberries and pumpkins. Although her son Joe now operates the Lindley Farm and Market on Fiddler’s Green Road, “Grandma Joan” still likes to help, in addition to following charitable pursuits.

“If you have made a success of your life’s work, giving back is a satisfying gift,” says Joan.

From Fall 2023 Legacy Newsletter

Right response

Not so long ago, staff at Carole Anne’s Place on MacNab Street were calling 911 for a drug poisoning or overdose at least once a night.

That’s no longer true, now that Canada’s second gender-based safer-use drug space has opened at the drop-in shelter run by the YWCA Hamilton. “We have saved more than 50 lives and had no 911 calls since we opened in April 2022,” says Mary Vaccaro, the YWCA Hamilton liaison who oversees the program. “This is saving the lives of women and non-binary people I know and care about.”

The program, which operates during the hours when all other spaces supporting people who use drugs are closed, is a partnership between the YWCA, Keeping Six Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League, and the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team. Patrons bring their own drug supply and are monitored by trained staff for 20 minutes — though they’re welcome to stay longer. The warm, inviting space is decorated with artwork made by women during their visits.

“Women are actually using it,” says CEO Medora Uppal. “As much as we talk about the need for harm reduction, it feels very vulnerable for women to come in to use and be their authentic selves. Here, they feel they have a voice and a sense of belonging.”

The benefits go beyond responding to the drug poisoning epidemic. Women and non-binary folks forced to use drugs in secret are at high risk of violence from men. The program also connects patrons to wraparound services, including a safe supply clinic, detox services, housing, gender-based counselling, healthcare, and peer-run programming, such as yoga and meditation. It can also create pathways to and options for treatment.

HCF has been a champion of this made-in-Hamilton approach since the beginning through the Community Fund and Women 4 Change. Recently dedicated dollars will provide the program with stability, help to meet its most pressing needs and, ideally, attract additional support.

“The space wouldn’t exist without HCF,” Medora says. “They allowed us to pilot the program and now they’re helping us build for the future.”

Nurturing for nature

Tracing its history to 1919, the Hamilton Naturalists’ club now oversees ten nature sanctuaries covering over 500 acres of protected habitat, mainly in the Hamilton area. In addition to managing those lands, the club focuses on research that informs their stewardship practices, and outreach to take environmental education to both adults and children.

With 14 years as a staff member and ten previous years as a volunteer, Jen Baker, the club’s land trust manager, has witnessed the club’s growth and evolution over the years. Notably, in 2000 the club received a substantial bequest. The board of directors “took this opportunity to assess the future of the organization,” she says. As a result, they established an agency endowment fund for the club with Hamilton Community Foundation. Two decades later, the fund is a boon, says Baker. Because of the way HCF manages its funds, the club can budget for a predictable revenue stream from the endowment. “Income from the endowment fund helps to cover the basic costs of maintaining the nature sanctuaries — things like taxes and garbage collection and other needs that donors don’t necessarily think of. That allows us to fundraise for the bigger, more exciting projects.”

The club’s focus on youth takes it into Hamilton classrooms and then brings the students out into the natural environment. For many children, it’s unknown territory. Income from the endowment fund, in addition to other grants, helps make sure there are no financial barriers to participation: the club pays for transportation and provides binoculars for the kids to use, for example, so there is no cost to families.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the relationship with Hamilton Community Foundation,” says Baker, who admits she is not a finance person. “The community foundation’s staff has been incredibly patient explaining the financial aspects of the fund: they even attended one of our board meetings. They are generous with their time and expertise, and we have real confidence in their management of our fund.”

Home to stay

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most powerful.

Like helping a senior complete a housing allowance form that reduces their rent to $450 a month. Or connecting them to tax help so they can use the refunds to cover back rent. Or representing them at a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing to fight a renoviction. Or helping them manage clutter so their apartment passes inspection.

Thanks to the HOPES program at St. Matthew’s House, every one of these solutions — and many more — have prevented at-risk seniors from being evicted from their homes and living in shelters or on the street.

“A lot of our clients are estranged from families and isolated, whether that’s because of past mental health needs, addictions or incarceration, and they’re navigating the world on a very low income,” says program manager Andrew Matthews.

“Being $200 behind on rent can be almost impossible to come back from.”

HOPES also helps clients — many of whom exhibit hoarding behaviour — learn the skills to manage their living spaces, which improves mental health and helps prevent eviction, hospitalization and premature moves to long-term care. The program also provides assistance with funding applications, subsidized housing supports, medical appointments and income supports.

HOPES is fully integrated with other programs at St. Matthew’s House, including the food box program. “It’s rare that a client ever needs one program,” Andrew says. “If they’re being evicted because of rental arrears, odds are they’re facing food security issues as well.”

This wraparound approach is appreciated by clients. “St. Matthew’s House delivers top-notch, quality service right at my door with a smile,” says one senior. “The frozen meat is so appreciated with the high cost of groceries now.”

A new addition to the long-standing program, funded in part by HCF’s Martin Foundation Fund and Mary L. Cassidy Fund, is a paralegal who will work with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic to represent clients at the Landlord and Tenant Board. “That will really level up our participation at the board,” Andrew says.

HOPES currently supports 44 individuals, with the caseload expected to rise significantly in the future.

“Many of these issues are preventable and can be solved for a relatively low cost,” Andrew says. “By helping vulnerable seniors maintain their housing, HOPES saves their health, dignity and even their lives.”

Full steam ahead

Three cute cartoon characters dance on the screen at the front of the Grade 6/7 class. Instructor Bryan Williams has explained the steps to program the game, and now it’s the students’ turn to drag and drop the pieces of code to get their own characters to dance.

Bryan is with STEAM Engine, the flagship program of Hamilton non-profit Mathstronauts. In five weeks of in-class lessons or 10 weeks after school, students learn project-based computer programming, 3D modelling and graphic design. Instructors, mentors and curriculum materials reflect the diversity of the students. The program ends with an inspiring visit from a General Motors engineer.

The goal is to help those who are traditionally under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math, to see themselves in a STEM career.

Its work is sorely needed. Demand for STEM talent is growing exponentially, says executive director Sehrish Zehra, and the income of STEM graduates is $15,000 more a year than their non-STEM counterparts. But financial and structural barriers are keeping lower-income, racialized and female students from accessing programs.

“Not every person will love this stuff, but every person should have the opportunity to try it out,” Sehrish says. “We want to plant the seed early.”

HCF’s ABACUS initiative has funded STEAM Engine from its humble beginnings in one Hamilton school in 2016. Since then, it’s grown to serve 600 middle-schoolers in 17 high-priority schools in both the public and Catholic boards, with plans to expand to 29 schools and an additional 600 students by June 2024. ABACUS also supports a numeracy program for elementary students developed by Mathstronauts.

Back in the classroom, the students program the game on their own iPads, with bursts of dance music and whoops of excitement signalling success. “There’s this moment when they realize they have the tools to make things,” Bryan says. “If they play, they will learn.”

Care for kids

Danielle Zucchet was living the dream: a loving husband, two children, a successful career. Then came the darkest of news: her son Keaton would die of cancer before he turned eight.

“McMaster is one of the world’s elite children’s hospitals. But unlike other children’s hospitals in Canada, end of life and respite care is very limited,” she says. “Families like mine have to choose between the impossible: a death at home or in hospital.”

Danielle is now the chief executive officer of Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice and is working hard to change those options with a new pediatric hospice, slated to open in Hamilton in late 2025. The facility will serve a catchment of 2.3 million people, with 500 at any one time being children with serious illnesses that will cut their lives short.

“It’s about choice for families and meeting them where they are,” says public affairs and pediatric hospice project director, Doug Mattina. “We’re offering medical excellence and also dignity, comfort and even joy in that last chapter, so a mom or dad or sibling or grandparent can be just that, not a 24-hour caregiver.”

The 10-bed, 35,000 square-foot hospice will provide respite care, pain and symptom management, help with the transition between hospital and home, end-of-life care, and psycho-social support for grief — all at one-fifth of the cost of hospital care — in a multi-disciplinary, home-like, enriching environment. All services will be free to families.

Through its impact investing portfolio, HCF provided a three-year loan to support their capacity to fundraise for the hospice’s
$25-million capital campaign, and to cover pre-construction costs.

“The Foundation has been providing loans to the charitable sector for over a decade and we understand how challenging it can be to pursue new and capital-intense opportunities,” says Annette Aquin, HCF’s executive vice-president of finance and operations. “We know it’s hardest to raise funds at the beginning of a project — which is also the most important time — so were thrilled to be able to support the hospice in this way.”