A local group affected by the covid-19 pandemic asked Gravenhurst council for assistance at the Sept. 21 Committee of the Whole meeting. Kelly Jones, a YWCA facilitator for Circles South Muskoka spoke to council about the success of the program and the financial struggles that are on the horizon, specifically about affording rental fees for a venue.
Jones explained that Circles is a “program without walls” that aims to create “intersectional economic friendships.” Community members are invited to “sit in and listen to a full day of understanding what “living in poverty is actually like through the lens of someone who is actually living it,” she said.
Jones said that “she was a product of all these initiatives and after 12 years of being on Ontario Works, this was the program that launched my mindset forward in thinking that I could actually be a valuable human being in our community.”
Community members are paired up with low-income earners, and this is where Jones said “the magic happens” and networks begin to form.
Previously the group, which has 25 members, met at Trinity United Church and shared a meal. The cost of the space, plus use of the kitchen were covered by a three-year long Ontario Trillium Fund grant – which is due to finish Oct. 31.
During the pandemic, the meetings moved to virtual but Jones said over the “18 months, the magic began to lessen as we all stared blankly at a screen.” And once they were able to return to in-person meetings, “we learned that our space at Trinity United Church has been lost and we are now in a frantic search for a new location in Gravenhurst.”
Circles has applied for another grant but they will not find out if they will receive funding until January 2022. In the meantime, they are relying on donations from the community to keep going.
Jones said to council that she “wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all the allies who believed in me. Our ask is if we could reduce or remove the fees for the Terry Fox Room (located at the Centennial Centre) in order for us to operate from October to May so that we can continue to support these hardworking families to empower themselves out of poverty.”
Coun. Graeme Murray asked if there wasn’t already a program in place where groups can apply for reductions in rates. Manager of Recreation Services Shawna Patterson replied that the standard hourly fees are “$55 for commercial, $45 non-commercial for half the hall, and then for local re-investment groups is $11.” Patterson explained that there is no formal application process, but “it is just built into user fees by-law, so if they fall into that definition or category, then the applicable rate would be placed on their permit.”
Circles does fall into the $11/hour category for the Terry Fox Room and each meeting is three hours long. Circles is currently unable to use the kitchen, at an additional $8/hour, but would eventually like to.
Coun. Jo Morphy reiterated that Circles was relying on donations now and that “frankly this is an emergency,” as the grant is almost finished and “this program is about to be yanked away from them.” She asked council if they would waive the “just over $400 for a room that is currently sitting empty.”
Coun. Penny Varney wanted to “express concern this would result in more groups asking for help,” but noted that circumstances were unusual because it was covid-related.
Coun. Jo Morphy, who put forth the original motion said that if made council more comfortable, “by not setting precedent,” she would amend the motion to say that the $429 would be allocated to the Circles program in the Town of Gravenhurst’s fees and services, she would be “happy to make that minor change as long as we can get these kids into the program with their allies and leaders” and help keep it in place.
Council amended that motion to give the use of the Terry Fox Room to Circles from October to May, given there was no other booking conflict.
More information about getting involved or donating to the Circles program can be found at https://www.ywcamuskoka.com/circles.
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