In our last blog, I wrote about the challenges facing lesser-known, smaller charities as the COVID-19 crisis rages on and our sector faces unprecedented uncertainty.
The good news, as CanadaHelps data shows, is that despite a short-term dip in donations across the country, Canadians have stepped up and dug deeper into their pockets to ensure their preferred causes get the funding they need. Still, some charities are struggling to make ends meet.
That’s why we put out a call to hear from smaller charities across Canada—those that may fly largely under the radar, but do invaluable work from supporting seniors to providing shelter to the homeless or delivering services to children in need. While the larger, national organizations—which are indispensable given their reach and funding—tend to occupy the spotlight, the work of these grass root organizations is often just as powerful.
The challenge is that, try as we may, we simply can’t tell all of their wonderful, moving stories. But we can highlight the efforts of a few charities that have been supported by our Foundation clients that are making a game-changing difference in their communities. Their work is a reminder of the transformative impact that hard work and big ideas can have on the lives of others:
Sky’s the Limit
Founded in 2003, Toronto-based Sky’s the Limit Youth Organization provides refurbished laptops to marginalized and at-risk youth across the GTA. Their amazing work has taken on an entirely new level of urgency during the COVID-19 crisis when schools closed and children across the country were required to take classes from home—a major challenge in lower-income households where limited access to computers, tablets and even home internet now have the potential to impair kids’ academic progress.
“Growing up we had a very basic computer when I was in high school and I got the feeling this was going to be something,” Sky’s the Limit chair and founder Lara Tavares explains. “Then email and computers took off and I was very aware how many groups in our society didn’t have access to what was then new technology—and that they would be in a position where they were playing catch-up for academic and career opportunities.”
Tavares adds: “When you place a computer in a home the sphere of influence is up to 30 people including siblings, grandparents, friends and neighbours, among others. You’re not just uplifting a student with one computer, but entire communities.”
To date, Sky’s the Limit has placed more than 4,400 computers in communities across Toronto such as Rexdale and Regent Park, while also offering technology camps, workshops and programming for marginalized youth. They’ve worked as far afield as New Orleans, Haiti and Jamaica, providing relief after natural disasters.
The current crisis saw their team shift into high gear.
“We immediately took the initiative during COVID-19 to reach out to our partner organizations to highlight community needs and to help families without computers and internet in a socially responsible and safe way,” says Sky’s the Limit Executive Director Caroline Macintosh.
Working with various suppliers, the organization has been able to place more than 200 laptops in homes since the school shutdown was implemented. Sky’s the Limit also recently received a $100,000 gift to support COVID relief from a generous donor.
“COVID has shone a light on a segment of the population that’s seeing a need where they hadn’t seen one before,” Tavares says. “Kids are learning in a pandemic environment and there are so many emotional and psychological effects. Not having access to a computer to do homework is an unnecessary strain and a problem we can solve for them.”
Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre
It’s no secret that senior citizens have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, organizations such as Red Deer, Alberta’s Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre have been there to provide much-needed assistance. In fact, they’ve been serving the community since 1977, with drop-in programs for everything from tax processing and hearing tests, to staging social events and providing home outreach services for seniors with mobility issues or medical conditions.
“We try to prevent unhealthy aging situations through chronic disease management and by providing non-medical services like our volunteer transportation services,” explains Golden Circle Executive Director Monica Morrison.
As with many charities and non-profits across Canada, the organization has been financially impacted by social distancing measures that have limited its ability to fundraise—in this case through bingo events, one of Golden Circle’s main sources of revenue.
But Morrison and her team are resilient and have worked diligently to leverage government support programs and to raise awareness of the organization’s needs to gain much-needed funding and continue their vital community work.
“Our volunteers go to visit clients in their home normally, but right now they’re visiting over the phone for a weekly call-in,” she says of her team’s efforts to adapt to social-distancing measures.
Their homemade frozen meal program has packaged and delivered more than 2,000 meals since the start of the pandemic. It’s a lifeline for many seniors and disabled people in the community that rely on Golden Circle for help. Despite the challenges, Morrison is optimistic about the future.
“The community support has been wonderful so far,” she says. “We’re here to ensure that people stay connected, while supporting them at home as their abilities decline.”
We’ve seen remarkable stories of compassion and caring emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, underscoring the idea that even in times of tragedy, we can find opportunities for unity and kindness. No one knows that better than the team at Team Unbreakable.
The organization promotes running and physical fitness programs for youth as a tool to improve mood and manage mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.
As program director Nils Blondon recounts, Team Unbreakable got its start when founder Dave Harris began running to manage an overwhelming sense of grief following his son’s suicide. He soon endeavoured to turn that personal tragedy into something positive.
After learning about a teen therapy running program at the Trillium Health Partners hospital network in Oakville, Ont., Harris thought the concept would be a perfect fit for school-aged children. He soon launched the Team Unbreakable program for high schoolers in the Peel Region outside of Toronto, and has since expanded across the province.
With schools closed, Team Unbreakable has faced challenges—both financial and logistical—with access to students temporarily halted. Undaunted, they’ve pivoted their model and gone virtual to continue delivering invaluable services to youth, and to stay connected with key stakeholders such as the more than 30 schools that work with their program.
“Running and walking is all we have right now for exercise,” Blondon notes. “It’s our only opportunity to engage with the environment and to get out of the house. Even a 20-minute jog every day can boost mood in the right direction.”
Blondon and his team refused to let an unprecedented pandemic get in the way of their mission. So, they launched a virtual nine-week challenge to continue getting their message out to students.
In the first week, participants were asked to articulate a goal, work on mindfulness exercises and engage in physical activity to bolster their mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Kids are given a training log where they can record their mood and goals before each run over the course of the program. They’re then asked to reflect on how running makes them feel, while being provided with a mental health toolkit, videos and other interactive features.
“Our mandate is more important than ever, especially for kids with no physical activity going on. Any chance we get to get outside, get some air and run to offset depression and anxiety, is something we need to seize upon.”
Learn more about Team Unbreakable and register for their upcoming Virtual 5 km run on June 21st.
Again, these are only a few stories that exemplify the magnificent work being done by smaller charities and non-profits across Canada. But they remind us that, in so many ways, these organizations are the unsung heroes of our charitable sector.
The Team at Canada Gives