Local organizations are getting a financial boost to support a number of community social programs.
Okotoks Town council approved $280,000 worth of funding on Jan. 23 for Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) to help 14 different groups and programs that support the community.
Recipients includes Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, Foothills Country Hospice volunteer program, the Parent Link Centre drop-in and stay-and-play programs, Literacy for Life family community literacy project, and more.
While some programs received the same funding as previous years, others saw a significant boost. Big Brother Big Sisters will receive $20,000 over 2016 funding levels, and Rowan House received $5,000 more than last year. In addition, two new requests made the docket for 2017 – Roots of Empathy and the Foothills School Division’s success connector program.
Okotoks FCSS committee chairperson Ashley Dreger said it was difficult to decide on how to disperse funds this year.
“We were asked for $50,000 more than we were budgeted to give out, so we had a huge amount of funding to cut,” said Dreger.
“It’s difficult, because everybody’s got a great program, so who’s to say which program isn’t as important?”
She said the committee looked at whether organizations were eligible for funding from other sources as part of its final decision.
Those programs eligible for funding outside FCSS were, in many cases, given less than requested. Other organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Parent Link, can’t run without support from FCSS, she said.
“It’s harder not to fund those requests,” said Dreger. “Where we cut, we feel like those people should be able to pick up the deficit.”
Rowan House Emergency Shelter received the full amount of $25,000 it had requested. Community relations co-ordinator Ally Cramm said the money will be used to expand the shelter’s Branches preventative education program.
After an environmental scan was done last year, Rowan House identified gaps in service in the community. As a result, programming is being increased in new areas like elder abuse.
In particular, the funding will help support the Healthy Relationship education and support group that ran in Okotoks last year as a pilot project. As a pilot, it was not included in the regular budget, she said.
“We felt it was a benefit to have that support group running in Okotoks because it could also be more easily accessed for residents of Black Diamond, Turner Valley and the northern MD area,” said Cramm. “We asked for a bit more funding this year to continue because there are additional costs to holding the group outside the shelter.”
A new program Rowan House intends to launch this year, called Leading Change, will provide workshops for boys and men to encourage having healthy relationships and stand up against abuse. Male leaders in the area will be recruited to speak to young boys in schools, clubs and on sports teams, she said.
“They want to share the message it’s okay to be sensitive, and it’s okay to stand up for what you believe is right when it comes to abuse and bullying,” said Cramm. “Just having an extra voice to change that culture around violence against women is important.”
She said training will happen through April, and the sessions should begin shortly afterward.
The program will also continue to offer presentations to students in Grades 2, 5, 8 and 11, she said, which is the base of Branches.
Another school-based program, Roots of Empathy, is new on the list of FCSS-funded organizations.
Roots of Empathy is a social and emotional learning curriculum aimed at students from kindergarten to Grade 8, which is delivered by a trained volunteer in a classroom once per week through the school year. Once per month, a mother and her baby join the classroom to put the message of empathy into perspective for students.
Sarah Wood, Roots of Empathy key point co-ordinator, said the goal is to foster a kinder classroom and develop empathy and compassion through the lens of growth and development.
“The kids get attached to the mom and the baby, and the instructor draws all the curriculum back to the growth of the baby and observing who they are, developing empathy for the baby and then extending it to one another,” said Wood.
The baby becomes the star of the program, she said. As students get to know the classroom baby, they become attached to him or her, and protective.
“Then the instructor can say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we all could treat each other the way you treat Baby X,’” said Wood. “They’re able to extend that empathy they feel for the child and the empathy modeled between mom and baby to one another.”
Roots of Empathy applied for $7,800 from Okotoks FCSS, and received its full request. The money will be put toward recruiting, training, and outfitting three new instructors, said Wood.
It costs about $2,100 per person for training tuition and supplies like baby toys and interactive items to use during the sessions. An additional $500 goes toward travel costs, costs for printing and volunteer appreciation over the year, she said.
Having more instructors could expand the program in Big Rock School and St. Mary’s School, where it currently operates. It could also mean other schools interested in hosting Roots of Empathy can be accommodated, she said.
“Now that we know the funding is going to come, I can begin to look around and see who might want to get involved, where I can send them and when,” said Wood.
Okotoks FCSS approved fundingBig Brothers and Big Sisters - $55,000
CTR Catholic Schools - $25,000
Foothills Country Hospice Society - $12,000
Foothills Fetal Alcohol Society - $7,000
Foothills Regional Victim Services - $7,000
Foothills School Division - $58,000
Foothills SNAPS - $15,000
High River & District Parent Link - $15,000
Junior Achievement Southern Alberta - $1,700
Literacy for Life - $12,000
Okotoks & District Seniors Club - $4,100
Roots of Empathy - $7,800
Rowan House Emergency Shelter - $20,000
Wild Rose Community Connections - $40,400