The Community Initiative Program is a positive force in the community, but like many people I know it could achieve so much more. Too much money is spent each year without a larger plan and so too, without larger results.
Currently we ask Valemount’s undersubscribed and depopulated non-profits to come forward with programs worthy of funding. Most times, they come back with small plans that help in small ways. These little projects may have enormous benefit to the non-profits who pitch them, but are they moving Valemount forward as a whole?
This year that program will spend more than a quarter of a million dollars. What business, or even non-profit would spend that kind of money without a strategic plan? The Trust has grown, the amount of money we receive annually has grown drastically too. Perhaps the way we distribute funding needs to change.
I believe that we could serve the same sectors we currently serve, groups like arts, seniors, youth, recreation and also make progress on Valemount’s single biggest concern, a sluggish economy and a lack of employment.
There is a way to accomplish the objectives that we all know and love, and pay attention to the economy too. I can illustrate it with an example I heard from a CBT staff member.
Local seniors’ need more housing options, options that include home care. Home care creates decent jobs. The right project could leverage CBT funds, the BC Housing Authority, BC Gaming, perhaps the Vancouver Foundation, the Northern Trust and so many more to serve seniors, all while creating some decent paying long term jobs. It’s a complex project that could never be achieved in a single funding cycle.
Our current program doesn’t usually deliver that kind of complex multiyear project. Most of the projects we see are short term. In fact the program currently weeds out multi-year funding projects.
However, one sector is leveraging these CBT funds and developing big projects that result in big benefits to the community. The outdoor recreation sector has accomplished things that no other community has been able to do. Crystal Ridge Sled Skiing Area was a capital intensive project that took years of planning and foresight. They used Community Initiatives and many other funding sources to make it happen.
What are the characteristics that made that complex project possible? I can think of a few that stand out. VARDA, the group that has been developing the project, has a full time employee. They have a solid plan. They have a phased approach that enables them to ask for money on an annual basis. They cooperate with other groups.
The group’s next project will have an even greater impact on the community. They have taken on the Valemount Mountain Bike Trails Master Plan. This is a project that is even better for the community and just about as complex, benefiting everyone from wheelchair users to hikers. This time VARDA is not doing it alone; it is doing it hand-in-hand with the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association.
Long term plans, cooperation between groups and dedicated employees are three things that I see those groups approaching differently than any other applicant, and I think these are three reasons their projects have such a large impact.
This year about $85,000 was requested for renovations of buildings. I know that these are very important projects for the groups that pitch them, but before long we will have spent enough money to build a single new energy efficient low maintenance building in order to renovate three or four old buildings.
At a time when families in Valemount are being tried by separation, when spouses leave for work in other communities, at a time when jobs are so scarce, is there a better way to spend that money?
That funding should be allocated to meet the challenges that Valemount faces as a whole community, not just the challenges faced by individual non-profits. Perhaps then, if we can meet the larger challenges that Valemount faces, these struggling non-profits will once again have the membership to thrive.
Let’s do something about it. The Community Initiative Program is our program. I know, I served three years on the board of the Columbia Basin Trust. It belongs to us because we are part of the Trust and because our area was deeply affected by the Kinbasket Reservoir and the Columbia River Treaty. We were affected economically. We don’t need to be shy about using Community Initiatives money to jump start the economy, as long as that direction comes from the community. It is our responsibility to use that funding wisely.
The money shouldn’t be used to pave roads or fix pipe. It should fund visionary projects. And if it is going to help make Valemount a richer better place, we should take a serious look at letting groups leverage funding for employees.
We have the opportunity to use this resource to create a thriving, caring, growing community. Let’s take the reins and get this program working for us.
Andru McCracken, Valemount