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City bolsters Evergreen with emergency funding

A youth centre in the Simpson-Ogden neighbourhood has staved off funding challenges, at least for now, with a $10,000 infusion from the City of Thunder Bay.

THUNDER BAY — A youth centre in the Simpson-Ogden neighbourhood has staved off funding challenges, at least for now, with emergency funding from the city.

Evergreen: A United Neighbourhood was approved for $10,000 in gap funding at a city council meeting Monday, after appealing to the municipality for help with shortfalls it said threatened to close its doors altogether.

The organization runs an after-school drop-in program out of a house on Heron Street, where area children and youth can access activities, meals, and mentorship.

That service is typically accessed by 15 to 35 children per day. Including other initiatives like food boxes provided to area families, Evergreen estimates it supported close to 400 families last year.

Executive director Linda Bruins called the funding a "great relief."

“This is 17 years I’ve been involved in this organization helping this community, and there’s so many fantastic families and kids who come here who rely on our services,” she said. “I just can’t imagine if we weren’t there for them.”

Bruins expressed optimism Evergreen could boost its income through steps like working more closely with other non-profits and participating in more fundraisers.

Those include a barbecue hosted by Fox on the Run, a golf tournament, and the United Way’s lighthouse rescue. More information on those events will be available at Evergreen’s Facebook page.

Residents can also learn more about volunteering opportunities and donate at the organization’s website.

However, Bruins said the shortfall also reflects a lack of permanent funding that has long left the organization hanging on by its financial fingernails.

“It’s always a scramble. We have no core funding,” she said. “There’s a lot of grant-writing. I’m hopeful we can secure larger amounts [to] keep us more stable.”

The organization has covered its expenses aside from the executive director’s salary, Bruins said, adding she has gone four months without pay over the past year to ensure that — a solution she called unsustainable.

Evergreen has raised around $110,000 for this year, compared to a baseline of around $150,000 Bruins said is needed to keep operating.

Bruins attributed the challenges in part to lower donation levels.

“The second year of COVID, people were incredibly generous,” she said. “But then last year, it just shrunk up. Understandably, there’s a lot of charities, there’s a lot of need out there.”

She also hopes Evergreen’s recent move to secure a bookkeeper with significant non-profit experience would help it better budget and manage its money.

The emergency funds come through the city’s Community, Youth and Cultural Funding program, which supports a number of local arts, recreation, and social service organizations with a total of nearly $3 million a year.

The emergency funds come on top of Evergreen’s regular allocation of $30,000 through the fund.

The city appeals committee that oversees the fund recommended approving the request after hearing from Bruins in May.

“At that time it was shared that the organization is currently experiencing a significant financial shortfall, is struggling to maintain governance processes, and is at risk of closure within the next three months,” wrote appeals committee chair Coun. Andrew Foulds in a memo to council.

Foulds also suggested the organization’s growing focus on food security, providing hot meals and food baskets to local families, contributed to stretching its resources.

Council unanimously approved the funding Monday.

In an interview, Coun. Shelby Ch’ng called that imperative.

“I just think the work that Linda Bruins and the Evergreen team does is absolutely amazing,” she said.

“Kids have a place to go, do their homework, play video games, connect with other kids, and even gain some life skills … You can imagine if there were deserts in that area where those activities don’t happen, what do kids living below the poverty line get up to?”

Ch’ng is hopeful other local organizations may see the value of Evergreen’s work and reach out with support, adding she plans to investigate possibilities as a member of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.

“Once the board gets its powers back, I do plan to bring that forward and do a deeper dive to have a bit more of a policy, like do we invest in these crime prevention programs?” she said. “Because that’s essentially what [Evergreen] is, helping to alleviate costs down the road, hopefully.”

Foulds echoed the praise for the group’s work, while noting the city funds would not come without strings attached.

“When we talk about money, it’s precious, so you’ll see in the memo there are a number of criteria there to ensure our due diligence takes place,” he told council.

Conditions attached to the funding stipulate it must spend it on wages and benefits within the 2023/24 fiscal year; Evergreen must pursue other funding opportunities, and provide regular updates on those efforts and its financial position; and demonstrate “evidence of capacity-building and board recruitment.”

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