Saturday, July 20, 2019
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Community initiatives weather financial crisis

Small community programs in Vancouver have been told that their funding is safe for now, even though the foundation that…


Small community programs in Vancouver have been told that their funding is safe for now, even though the foundation that supports them has less money because of recent stock market turmoil.

The Vancouver Foundation, which funds community charities throughout British Columbia, recently warned its partners that the “perfect financial storm” of the past few months may prevent it from supporting some projects, at least in the short term. Most of the foundation’s income comes from investment returns on large endowment funds.

A group of neighbours on 10th Avenue used a small grant to set up a bike safety station, giving out snacks, maps and smiles to cyclists on that street's bike route while collecting signatures on a petition to improve the route's safety.
10th Ave neighbours used a grant to set up a bike safety station, giving out snacks and maps

The foundation provides the money for the Neighbourhood Small Grants Program, which is administered by 11 local neighbourhood houses in eastern Vancouver and Burnaby.

The coordinator of the Mount Pleasant-area program, Jennifer Gray-Grant, says a foundation representative recently told program volunteers and recipients that funding levels would be maintained for next year.

“I thought that was really quite exciting,” she says, “because they see the value in giving little bits of money to people to continue these projects.”

The Small Grants Program gives up to $500 to groups of residents for projects aimed at enhancing a neighbourhood in a variety of ways.

Projects could be physical improvements such as murals and street gardens, or social and cultural events ranging from block parties to art workshops. The grant money pays for materials, equipment or site rentals.

Lidia Kemeny, a program director with the Vancouver Foundation, says the “very small level of funding” is amplified by the participation of community members, who bring their own skills and experience.

Because the Neighbourhood Small Grants are funded solely by the foundation, she says, “if we pull out of that, or significantly reduce it, then that initiative may not be able to continue at all.” Kemeny suggests that the foundation will look for savings from programs that are otherwise well funded.

Most of the Small Grants projects involve at most a few dozen people, and an area of only a few blocks. But that’s part of the design, says Gray-Grant: “In order to have stronger communities, a stronger city, you need to start that block by block.”

Block parties and beyond

This year, the Mount Pleasant program, which is jointly operated by the Mount Pleasant and Little Mountain neighbourhood houses, distributed just under $30,000 to 98 projects. In the four years it has been running, Gray-Grant says she has seen an increasing diversity in the projects being proposed.

“People enjoy working with one another on a garden or being at a block party,” she says, “and I think they just start talking to one another, and saying ‘Well, let’s try something else next year.’ ”

Aline Beth Marshall (center) works with some young neighbours to finalize the artwork they created as part of a project funded by a small grant.
Sculptor Aline Beth Marshall (centre) helps children with their art

Sculptor and art gallery owner Aline Beth Marshall is a returning grant recipient. She first got involved with the program when she and neighbouring business owners on 15th Avenue received a grant for a street garden.

This year, Marshall organized an art project for neighbourhood children and teenagers, inspired by historical photographs of the area from the City of Vancouver archives.

Related: Neighbourhood history becomes art

Projects don’t have to be complex to be effective. Kristina and Thomas Whelton-Davis used a small grant to purchase a variety of children’s toys – skipping ropes, Frisbees, balls and nets – and invited local families to join them in a community park, once every week since April.

The project was inspired by Silken Laumann’s ActiveKids Movement – which promotes physical activity through play – but for Kristina Whelton-Davis, it was also about getting local children playing together and parents talking to each other.

“The diversity of the community is quite high in Mount Pleasant,” she says, “and sometimes I find when we go to the park there will be a couple of different parents who are standing off on their own… I thought it would be nice to pull these people in.”

The Vancouver Foundation’s Board of Directors will meet in December to make final decisions on all program funding for 2009.

(Photo of the Bike Safety Station courtesy of Sarah Wen.)

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