Putting community first

Compassion, trust and action are a winning combination.

Last winter, Karen Turkstra read a Hamilton Spectator article about a snowstorm that had left many unhoused people struggling to stay warm. The story highlighted the first-hand experiences of those directly affected, as well as those of frontline service providers including the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMSMaRT), an organization that provides health services to vulnerable residents. Moved by what she read, Karen contacted Marcie McIlveen, outreach co-ordinator at HAMSMaRT, and made a donation. That same day, supplies were being delivered to the people who needed them.

“This was a really incredible experience to have met a person of such dedication and knowledge and to have had an immediate impact on the problem,” says Karen. “It did not solve the problem, but hopefully satisfied an immediate and urgent need.”

But it didn’t end there. After a meeting between Karen, HAMSMaRT and HCF staff, Karen and her husband Peter made a grant from their HCF fund to support HAMSMaRT’s longer-term sustainability. The couple put no parameters on the grant’s use, nor did they request any kind of reporting, deciding instead to trust those doing the work.

“In this case, we believed that leaving it to the professionals and people on the ground was best,” says Karen. “They know where the funds are needed the most.”

Excerpt from 2022 Fall Legacy newsletter

PAWS for a cause

There’s a saying that pets leave paw prints on our hearts.

Unfortunately, the times when the companionship of animals is most beneficial can also be the times when some owners find it most difficult to afford their care.

PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Services) is a volunteer-run organization that facilitates access to medically necessary veterinary care and removes barriers to social services for Ontarians with animal companions. Clients include those who are unhoused, fleeing violence, receiving government assistance and experiencing a health crisis. In response to a sharp increase in applications locally, HCF is supporting the PAWS Essential Medical Fund for Hamilton through the Vera & Percy Tomlinson Fund that includes a focus on animal welfare.

The program provides subsidies for vaccinations, neuters and spays, prescriptions, vet-recommended diagnostic tests and emergency procedures. Applicants must meet certain criteria, and payment goes directly to the vet clinic. It is also well-timed, given the Hamilton Spectator’s recent report that high inflation is prompting more families to give up their animal companions.

Excerpt from 2022 Fall Legacy newsletter

Mentoring diversity in the arts

Red Beti Theatre is helping the next generation of producers find both their voices and their audience.

Hamilton’s only Indigenous, Black and People of Colour (IBPOC) theatre, Red Beti commissions and presents live performances created and written by Canadian IBPOC women. One of those women is Narika Reddy. In 2021, HCF provided a grant from the Alfred and Joan Robertshaw Fund for the theatre’s mentorship program, which saw this up-and-coming producer build her skills in project management, technical production, budgeting, grant writing, contract development and negotiation.

Under the guidance of artistic producer Claire Burns, Narika helped three playwrights develop their scripts and organized a staged reading of the pieces at the inaugural Decolonize Your Ears online festival—all during a global pandemic.

As Narika shared in a blog on the theatre’s website, “The challenges we faced were definitely out of the ordinary. I left with more knowledge in terms of adapting original ideas to newer ones, which would later serve our audience, sponsors and partners more efficiently.”

Excerpt from 2022 Fall Legacy newsletter

Listen, learn, respond

This fall, local organizations are receiving grants that touch three key areas of community need.

One granting stream helps support children’s healthy development through a “whole child approach” that recognizes a student’s overall development — not just their academic achievement — is especially important on their post-pandemic return to school. A second grant focus is on meeting basic needs — food, transportation, shelter — for people experiencing marginalization. Not all the grants fund programs directly.

A third granting focus was on building the capacity of local organizations who work to meet the needs of equity-deserving groups including racialized people, newcomers, people with disabilities, 2SLGBTQIA+ and Indigenous people. These grants (see below) help build sustainability so the organizations can more effectively advance their missions, and include support for board, leadership and volunteer development.

Priorities for the three granting streams were refined through community consultation, research and understanding the changing community landscape. The funding came from HCF’s “field of interest” funds, where donors may identify an area of interest, but trust HCF to determine the best use of the grants. This process was assisted through an open call to the community, which also prioritized small-to-mid-sized organizations whose resources to fundraise may be less.

“Unrestricted funds like these allow HCF to help with the most critical local issues,” says Rudi Wallace, Vice-President, Grants and Community Initiatives. “Open calls also provide information that enhances our own knowledge about local needs and emerging strategies that can be shared across the community, including with donors.”

In total, 21 organizations were funded through these grants; a complete list is available here.

Supporting sustainability

Hamilton Community Foundation has a goal to increase the capacity and health of equity-deserving organizations and communities to address systemic barriers, through funding and non-financial supports such as convening, advocacy and relationship-building. Here are three recent grants that work toward that goal:

Somali Community in Hamilton

Established in 2004, Somali Community in Hamilton (SCH) provides services to the significant number of Somalian immigrants who now call Hamilton home. These services include youth programs, legal advocacy, elders programs and employment assistance. The Foundation’s conversations with SCH resulted in a successful application for volunteer training on grant proposal writing. It also includes a “grantmaking 101” workshop to help provide long-term sustainability.

Rafiki Hamilton Rafiki

Hamilton serves the city’s Congolese community and other local Francophone Africans. A capacity-building grant from HCF is supporting Rafiki with charitable incorporation, leadership development for staff, and volunteer support.

Munar Learning Centre

Munar Learning Centre serves Somali communities in Hamilton by creating bridges between Somali refugees, the education system and service providers. Munar is using the grant to strengthen its board recruitment planning, administrative policy development, a fundraising plan and its application for charitable status.

Excerpt from 2022 Fall Legacy newsletter

Growing community

Come play in the dirt! That’s the invitation Hamilton’s kids received from the Children’s Garden, a resident-led project that has transformed a corner of Gage Park into a safe place where children of all ages can play freely outdoors, connect with nature and grow flowers, herbs and vegetables.

The garden opened earlier this summer with contributions from landscape architects, community volunteers and City of Hamilton staff.

Supported by a grant from HCF’s Environmental Endowment Fund, the garden hosts pop-up education sessions, planting events and field trips, as well as opportunities for spontaneous play. Children, their families, gardeners and community members take care of planting, maintenance and the harvest. An Indigenous-led section features the Three Sisters Garden and a medicine garden and is intended to be an inclusive space for strengthening Indigenous presence, health, community and knowledge sharing.

 “Working together in a children’s garden helps instill togetherness and a common purpose,” say founders Juby Lee and Hazel Cho. “While children are learning a lifelong love of growing things, we can create community.”

Excerpt from 2022 Fall Legacy newsletter

Unchained philanthropy

Chris Farias and Jared Lenover celebrated their wedding by setting up a fund at HCF to support organizations making a difference for gay and lesbian youth.

“We weren’t exactly kids when we got married; we didn’t need toasters,” Chris says, so they encouraged friends to launch the fund with their gifts instead. That was in 2018 and they have not looked back.

Both grew up in rural Ontario and suffered from a lack of gay role models and visible representation. They hope they can change that for kids coming up now.

“How can we empower 2SLGBTQIA+ youth? Can we take down a barrier that is holding someone back?” says Jared about the impact they would like to see from their fund.

The Unicorn Fund (“mythology tells us there is no more powerful force than an unchained unicorn,” explains Chris) has grown faster than the couple anticipated. In a conscious strategy to link their values and work, their branding company builds a donation to the fund into every contract.

“We are unapologetically committed to this,” says Jared. “So we just tell clients in advance that part of their payment for work by our company, Unicorn Rebellion, will go to the fund at HCF to help 2SLGBTQIA+ kids. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.” In addition to corporate contributions, Chris is a born fundraiser. He maximizes opportunities on Facebook, drag performances and other speaking events to raise donations for The Unicorn Fund and other local charities.

The couple says Hamilton Community Foundation has been a great partner. “They are fantastic people, progressive and embracing of everyone,” says Chris. “As an organization, HCF has seriously put a focus on diversity and inclusion,” Jared adds. “They are doing the work. You need to, to be effective in Hamilton and reflect the whole community.”

“HCF has seriously put a focus on diversity and inclusion. They are doing the work.” – Jared Lenover

Taking impact to the next level

Jim Ray wishes he had found Hamilton Community Foundation sooner. After years of giving to causes they believe in, Jim and his wife Annette established a donor-advised fund at HCF. They now feel they can achieve even more with their resources.

Their fund at HCF offers them “huge flexibility and simplicity,” says Jim. The couple also appreciates the Foundation’s expertise identifying community needs. As they continue to support long-standing interests including the French parish, youth opportunities and the arts, Annette says HCF offers them “research and analysis and a perspective on community needs that we wouldn’t have on our own.” The Foundation has already matched them with new opportunities for impact, including exciting work with Indigenous communities.

HCF’s tax and financial expertise (“the mechanics”, as Jim calls it) is also a bonus. For example, donating stocks can provide tax advantages, increasing the value of the gift. “It’s real magic, but a bit complicated,” Jim says. “It’s not fair to expect the volunteer treasurer of a charitable organization to know the ins and outs of that. But the Foundation does, and by donating those shares to them, we can maximize our support to the organizations we want to help.”

The Dufresne-Ray Family Fund is an endowed fund, which means it will make a difference in perpetuity.

“Perpetuity is a long time,” says Jim with a smile. “The organizations we support right now may not be around decades in the future.” Their fund, however, is designed to continue to support the interests and priorities that Jim and Annette care so much about now — and eventually with added input from their children and grandkids.

“Our intentions will continue to be met over time,” says Annette. “That gives us comfort. And all the staff at the Foundation have been compassionate and meticulous. They’ve been a pleasure to deal with.”

 “The Foundation offers a perspective on community needs that we wouldn’t have on our own.” – Annette Ray

Rights and responsibilities

Brad is a single dad who lives with his five children in an apartment in east Hamilton. His landlord refuses to spray for bugs, conducts illegal inspections and is making Brad pay for damage that predated his move-in. Now, the landlord is putting pressure on Brad to move. “I don’t want to,” Brad says. “He calls me the R-word. I’ve heard that word all my life. It makes me want to cry.”

Brad credits Civic Connections — a program that uses community outreach, tenant workshops and leadership development to increase the civic engagement of Hamilton’s low-income tenant community — with giving him the confidence to stay put.

HCF first funded Civic Connections in 2017. Subsequent grants have supported the program’s expansion in several neighbourhoods experiencing escalating pressures from gentrification, including those in east Hamilton and on the Mountain. In 2021, the program will continue in east Hamilton and expand to four new west Mountain neighbourhoods and one in the core, again with HCF support.

More than 60 people attended the tenant workshops in 2020, which were developed with the support of the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, and held online due to the pandemic. Participants learned the basics of municipal government, practised presenting to city council and were informed of their rights and obligations, with special attention to evictions during COVID-19.

Elizabeth Ellis co-led the east Hamilton workshops. Like Brad, she had been bullied by her landlord to leave, eventually accepting a buy-out that wasn’t enough to cover her moving costs, let alone the rent increase at her new place. “Knowledge is power,” Elizabeth says. “We give people information so they can decide what’s right for their situation. The more people speak up, the more city hall will listen.”

The ultimate goal is constructive civic engagement. “An informed citizenry makes better decisions,” says Hamilton Community Legal Clinic staff lawyer, Ali Naraghi. “If the public knows their basic rights on any topic, it automatically de-escalates conflict down the road.”

Pandemic pivot

ABACUS is HCF’s initiative to engage middle-schoolers and increase the likelihood that they will graduate and go on to postsecondary education. At Boys and Girls Club of Hamilton, it means providing the experiences and supports to spark kids’ interest in learning and help them achieve their educational dreams.

Like all programs at the club, ABACUS creates a space where young people want to be. “That’s our secret sauce,” says assistant executive director, Duane Dahl. “Members feel safe to try something new because it’s low commitment. No one tells them they have to come.”

In March 2020, in-person gathering was restricted and all the tried-and-true ways to connect and engage with young people disappeared overnight. Staff scrambled to reinvent the program, constantly figuring out new ways to connect, especially with those they hadn’t seen. The kids’ mental health and well-being were paramount.

A twice-weekly after-school drop-in moved online. Mentoring now takes place by phone, on Instagram, during meet ‘n’ greets in local parks, private chats on Zoom and curbside pickups of pre-made dinners and grocery cards. Field trips are now virtual, including a workshop for middle-school girls with musician Queen Cee, a special event with international TikTok star Notorious Cree and a virtual meetup with youth from the Montréal Boys and Girls Clubs.

Recognizing that ABACUS programming deals with a vulnerable group, HCF enabled grantees to redirect funding to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19. At the Boys and Girls Club, this meant food security, connection and community took precedence over academics.

“We started the food program because we wanted the kids to know we weren’t going anywhere,” says manager of community services and programs, Heather Steeves. “You don’t have to join a virtual program for us to care about you and support you with what you need.”

“HCF trusted us to meet the needs that were being presented,” Duane says. “We’re providing direct supports like grocery cards, meals and school supplies, because we’re those trusted adults when families don’t know where else to turn.”

“Knowing this program still exists, even though it doesn’t look the same, that staff are there who care, it’s never been needed more than now.” – Heather Steeves, Boys and Girls Club of Hamilton

Creative caring

During week one of Art to Heart, Julie Turner explored her personal take on creativity. In week two, she made a collage expressing appreciation for her hands. Week three was scribble night. “That week I learned it’s okay to not have control,” says the St. Joseph’s Home Care employee. “I’m seeing lessons in the fun.”

Art to Heart, a no-cost, eight-week online art program developed by Dundas Valley School of Art, provides a safe gathering place for those working in Hamilton health-care settings to create therapeutic art projects and explore the impact of the pandemic on their lives. Funding came from HCF’s Pandemic Response Fund.

Some quick number crunching by DVSA determined that almost 20 percent of Hamiltonians are connected to health care. “They’re going into a war zone,” says DVSA executive director, Claire Loughheed. “The whole idea of Art to Heart is to create the opposite experience. Sometimes the power of making art is realizing the potential for joy.”

To accommodate shift work, participants can attend any of the weekly online sessions and access videos of missed classes. Activities are designed for people who don’t self-identify as artists and have limited time and focus. All materials are provided for free. Classes are facilitated by an art therapist.

All 60 spots were snapped up one week before the first class, with a waiting list of 60. DVSA will eventually post short, professional-quality lessons online so they’re available to anyone, anywhere, for free.

Julie doesn’t need to talk about work each week to experience support — making art is enough. “Sometimes you don’t realize what’s coming out until it’s on paper,” she says. “We feel safe to share about our projects because we’re all in health care. The pandemic has turned my job upside down. The day after a class, I’m able to cope better.”

“Creative endeavours are all therapeutic whether you set out for them to be or not,” says Claire. “This is a gift we needed to offer the community.”

“This was more than just saying the words ‘health-care heroes’. It was tangible. It told us the community cares about our efforts.” – Julie Turner, Art to Heart participant

Excerpt from 2021 Annual Report