Bistro puts job skills on the menu for those living with mental illness

Rainbow’s End assistant manager Tom Varley is a testament to the power of meaningful work

Look behind the stainless steel prep counter at The Rainbow’s End Bistro and you’ll find a pot of gold — a meaningful job for those with lived experience of mental illness.

The Bistro anchors the busy food court at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s West 5th location. With a focus on serving healthy, high-quality food, it’s a social enterprise providing training and employment for those living with mental illness.

One in five Hamiltonians will experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. Many want to return to work, but struggle to find opportunities. The Bistro not only provides its team members with training in safe food handling and exposure to a fast-paced kitchen environment, it proves they can be productive contributors to both workplace and community.

“The people who work here show us that despite some very difficult hurdles, they continue to climb,” says David Williams, executive director of Rainbow’s End. “I learned my relentless enthusiasm from them.”

Accommodations come standard. “We adjust the jobs to fit the people,” says Tom Varley, who started as kitchen help and is now the Bistro’s assistant manager. “Some people come in beaten down, with no self-confidence. Then they see they’re a vital member of the team. The change is amazing.”

Tom speaks from personal experience. “I was an addict for 25 years. You fool yourself into thinking you’re functioning but you’re not. Now I’m fully self-sufficient, and helping others, too. It’s like night and day.”

With support from an HCF grant, the Bistro is enhancing its training program with six-month paid internships and expanding its catering services. New signage, equipment and marketing help from Mohawk College students are also on the menu.

“We’re successful because of the hard work of our team members,” David says. “They belong here. They belong in the community. And they’re contributing to the success of Hamilton.”

Excerpt from 2017 annual report

Connecting community, one meal at a time

Clare Wagner brings people together around food at the Hamilton Community Food Centre

It’s a cold and rainy Saturday morning, but inside Neighbour 2 Neighbour’s Hamilton Community Food Centre on Limeridge Road West, everyone gets a warm welcome.

The centre is the first of its kind in Hamilton and only the eighth in Canada—a place that’s changing the food system through the power of a great meal, cooked with love and eaten with others.

At the Saturday market and café, a woman from South Korea and her son sample Persian tea and vanilla crêpes. A man from Dubai with a PhD in agriculture fills out a volunteer form. A woman from London, Ontario, in town to visit family, marvels at a table full of bright green chard for her mom’s Kurdish dishes. “I don’t know of anything like this in my city,” she says.

More than one in three people in some Hamilton Mountain neighbourhoods are living below the poverty line, with very few services. Programs at the Hamilton Community Food Centre are free. The market and café sell their wares at or below cost. No one is asked to prove their need.

“We aren’t teaching poor people to cook,” clarifies director of community food, Clare Wagner. “We’re creating a space for people to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food.”

Community Food Centres Canada chose Hamilton from among 24 Ontario communities for a five-year, $1 million investment. A loan from HCF’s Hamilton Community Investment Fund is helping to bring the centre to life by supporting construction, a capital campaign and operations.

The centre’s programs are filling up before there’s even a sign on the building. HCF funds support the Welcome Baby program, delivered in partnership with the City’s Public Health Department, and food-focused after-school and summer programming for children and youth.

Other popular programs are an intercultural community kitchen, lunch and dinner drop-ins, community gardens, a language exchange and community action training.

“There’s hope when we bring people from different backgrounds together around food and start talking about what needs to change,” says Clare. “This is a space where people can grow and feel valued.”

Excerpt from 2017 annual report

Canada 150 funding helps Hamiltonians be the face of change

Sandi Bell is one of the allies declaring their commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s calls to action

Canada’s history when it comes to Indigenous people is nothing to be celebrated, but an HCF grant is working to help Hamiltonians heal and move forward together.

In partnership with the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, HCF is supporting 43 wide-ranging projects across Hamilton that inspire understanding, build healthy communities and engage a broad and diverse group of people.

“I Am Committed” is a campaign co-led by YÉN:TENE—the Indigenous justice initiative of the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic—and the Professional Aboriginal Advocacy and Networking Group. It will help celebrate Canada’s 150 PLUS, the Indigenous-led reimagining of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

I Am Committed asks friends and allies of Indigenous people—some well-known and others not—to have their snapshot published as a symbol of their commitment to the calls to action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.

“We don’t want people to just read the report,” says Indigenous justice coordinator, Lyndon George. “We want them to put it into play in their everyday personal and professional lives.”

Photos will appear on posters, banners and the web. Content will be shared in English, French and Mohawk. Organizers hope newcomers, as well as people whose families have been in Canada for generations, will step forward to make a commitment. “Broken promises and abuse are part of our shared history,” Lyndon says. “A move to reconciliation must happen together, nation to nation.” YÉN:TENE, in fact, is Mohawk for “You and I will go there together.”

You might see Sandi Bell’s face on a poster. Her Indigenous heritage was lost when she was adopted. “I didn’t grow up with my traditions,” she says. “The Black part of me, the Canadian part of me is definitely an ally.” As chair of the legal clinic, she expects the diverse faces of the campaign to inspire people to listen, learn and join in, across Hamilton and beyond.

I Am Committed follows the model used in YÉN:TENE’s successful I Am Affected campaign, which used photos of Indigenous people to start conversations about the intergenerational trauma caused by Canada’s residential schools.

“This project is all about belonging,” Sandi says. “It’s about Indigenous people belonging in Hamilton and being free to follow their dreams. And it’s about the residents of Hamilton coming together to make sure people belong.”


Excerpt from 2017 Annual Report

Tutoring program helps students make the grade in their new home

Using everything from fraction games and make-your-own-book projects to soccer tournaments and campus tours, Empowerment Squared’s Homework Circle is helping newcomer youth imagine a brighter future through education.

Mentors who share a common experience with students are an important part of the Homework Circle

The program is supported by ABACUS, HCF’s 10-year initiative to increase high-school graduation and post-secondary access in Hamilton. Through ABACUS, the Homework Circle will provide one-on-one tutoring, mentoring and academic goal setting to remove educational barriers for as many as 100 at-risk and newcomer middle-school students each year.

Executive director Leo Johnson says that 75 percent of the youth have first languages other than English. Ninety percent have been placed in a grade much higher than their academic ability. “Without support, they won’t have enough credits to graduate high school,” he says.

ABACUS support expanded the Homework Circle program to middle-school youth, but it builds on seven years of success. Past participants are now a lawyer, psychiatric nurse and chiropractor. Twelve-year-old Nawel wants to be a doctor. “I’m in Grade 6 now but sometimes they give me Grade 7 work,” she says. “This program changed my life. They never give up on you.”

Participants can often see themselves in the mentors, many of whom come from McMaster’s African Students Association, Muslim Students’ Association, Nu Omega Zeta (Canada’s first Black-focused sorority), McMaster’s Polish Society and Mohawk College’s Living Lab Program.

“My family immigrated to Canada,” says a Nu Omega Zeta mentor. “I understand the kids’ struggles. And I know how important literacy is to university.”

The Homework Circle integrates ABACUS findings that show parental engagement directly affects how likely children are to pursue education beyond high school. A six-week digital literacy program teaches parents key computer and Internet skills, including how to use online translation tools and navigate school board websites, so they can better participate in their children’s education. They leave the program with a fully loaded computer.

Additional support from HCF’s Edith H. Turner Foundation Fund has allowed the program to handle the overwhelming demand, including from Syrian youth.

“Our biggest success is when kids trust us enough to say they don’t know something,” says Leo. “Once we get them to a place of self-confidence, they amaze us.”


Excerpt from 2017 Annual Report

A place to call home

New complex coming to Melvin Avenue

A striking new project near the intersection of Parkdale and Barton promises to transform both a local landmark and the lives of the people who will live there.

The site is currently occupied by George & Mary’s Tavern,  a long-standing fixture on Melvin Avenue in east Hamilton, but one that has fallen into disrepair. Supported by a mortgage loan from Hamilton Community Foundation’s impact investing fund, the property will be completely revitalized over the next year by Indwell, a creator of affordable housing communities that “support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.”

“Hearing the stories of vulnerable people who’ve experienced trauma due to their housing situations is overwhelming,” says Indwell executive director Jeff Neven. “We’re transforming a site that has always been an anchor for this community from a place of dereliction into one that people will want to call ‘home.’”

The rejuvenated property will provide a minimum of 56 affordable, accessible, energy-efficient apartments, 3,000 square feet of retail space and a large-scale teaching kitchen. Most of all, it will offer immense potential to improve the lives of its future residents. Results from Indwell’s other projects show a number of improvements in tenants’ situations, including an increase in housing stability by an average of 3.5 years, fewer required emergency services, improved mental and physical health, rebuilt family connections and an increase in community participation.

“This project is about so much more than bricks and mortar,” says Terry Cooke, HCF President and CEO. “We’re thrilled to be able to use our assets in new ways to support this kind of positive change.”


Excerpt from Spring 2017 Legacy Newsletter

Rain management 101

Into every life a little rain must fall—and managing it where it goes helps both homeowners and the environment.

With support from HCF’s Dougher Fund, a home visit program from Green Venture offered Dundas residents a personalized 90-minute assessment of their property and basement by a certified RAIN Home Guide.

Homeowners learned three simple principles—slow it down, soak it up and keep it clean—and specific techniques to manage stormwater and reduce water consumption, including rain harvesting and rain gardens. A customized report highlighted each homeowner’s five most pressing areas to address. A follow-up survey with participants showed 100 per cent of participants had taken or were preparing to take action on the recommendations.

Managing storm water means more flood-resistant communities, fewer wet basements and mould problems, more green spaces and cleaner local waterways. The Dundas program will help reduce the amount of water entering Spring, Sulphur and Spencer Creeks from the storm water system and overland drains during the extreme weather events that are becoming more common with climate change.

Excerpt from Spring 2017 Legacy newsletter

Caring dads

Caring Dads is a program offered in Canada, the U.S. and Europe that has shown significant success in working with fathers at-risk of using abusive behaviour with their families. Now, the program will be offered in Hamilton for the first time, filling an urgent local need identified by agencies addressing family violence.

Thanks to an HCF grant, Hamilton fathers will no longer have to be referred to Caring Dads programs in other cities. Offered by Catholic Family Services, Caring Dads emphasizes helping fathers to build strong, supportive relationships with their children. It works to increase a father’s ability to respond appropriately to kids’ misbehaviour, co-parent with their children’s mothers and put their kids’ needs first.

Excerpt from Spring 2017 Legacy Newsletter

A family affair

The Hamilton Philharmonic continued its tradition of bringing classical music to new ears with a complementary invitation for families living in City Housing Hamilton to attend its Family Concert Experience.

Supported by an HCF Creative Arts Fund grant, the program aims to introduce families to their local professional symphony, create a sense of belonging in their community’s arts organizations and build a special family experience. It included pre-concert activities such as create-your-own-instrument crafts and an instrument “petting zoo”.

As an early “welcome to your symphony,” HPO representatives attended tenant meetings to promote the concerts. Of City Housing Hamilton’s 13,000 residents, almost half are children.

Excerpt from Spring Legacy 2017 newsletter

Infant food bank fills a gap

Essential Aid, a Hamilton organization focused on nutrition for children under four, is filling a critical gap in the food bank system by stocking a wide range of infant formulas.

The nutrition needs of infants are unique and many formula-fed infants can’t tolerate a change.  Traditional food banks are unable to provide a selection of formula as it is expensive and product donations are difficult to acquire.   By offering multiple formulas, Essential Aid assists families in immediate need – no proof of income is required as the organization believes that an emergency can happen to anyone. The infant food bank is seeing an ever-increasing demand; HCF’s grant will help to meet the needs of an average 200 children monthly.

Essential Aid also offers a breastfeeding support program which provides education, one-on-one support from a volunteer nurse and supplies.  Last year, the organization provided emergency formula, diapers and breastfeeding equipment to 1,765 children, many of whose families were referred by other local food banks.


Exceprt from 2016 Fall Legacy newsletter

Enriching activities

ABACUS is HCF’s initiative to improve graduation and post-secondary access rates by focusing on students in the middle-school years.  To support the critical role of teachers in this goal, Hamilton Community Foundation launched a new small grants program – up to $500 – for Grade 6, 7 and 8 teachers to provide enrichment activities that support overall ABACUS objectives.

Including exciting ventures like a hands-on opportunity to design, test and build pneumatic and hydraulic systems, to experiencing pre-1850 Canadian history at Battlefield Park, to publishing a student-produced community newspaper, the first round drew almost 70 applications from teachers across the city, reflecting a wide range of projects that share an academic focus and a goal to improve student achievement.

Teachers take note:  the next application deadline for ABACUS Teacher Grants is March 1, 2017.  Check it out at


Exceprt from 2016 Fall Legacy newsletter