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Whistler Community Foundation stepped up in a difficult year

Organization handed out more than 90 grants and scholarships in 2020
N-CFOW AGM Zero Ceiling 28.25 SUBMITTED
Zero Ceiling, which provides supportive housing and employment to vulnerable young adults, was one of many Sea to Sky organizations that received a Whistler Community Foundation grant in the past year.

In the abstract, it’s easy to understand the work that the Whistler Community Foundation (WCF) does. Founded in 1999, the non-profit manages community donations as long-term investments and hands out tens of thousands of dollars in grant money to deserving local charities every year.

But it’s not often that you get to hear from recipients about the direct impact the WCF’s work can have on a more granular level, which makes the non-profit’s annual general meeting (AGM) such an important window into the Sea to Sky’s non-profit landscape. 
Held virtually on Wednesday, June 16, the WCF invited five of its 2020 grant recipients to report back on how the funds helped them through a year of unique challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic.

First up was Bree Thorlakson, executive director of the Pemberton Off-Road Cycling Association (PORCA), which received a $3,000 leadership grant created in honour of late Pique publisher and co-founder Kathy Barnett. Thorlakson used the grant money to enrol in Simon Fraser University’s non-profit management certificate program, which enabled her, as a relatively new PORCA director, to “really gain confidence to know that I’m doing things properly, or reconfirming that I’m on the right track,” she said. She also created a volunteer management plan for PORCA that she said she likely wouldn’t have done were it not for the chance to take the post-secondary program.

Howe Sound Women’s Centre (HSWC) executive director Ashley Oakes spoke about how essential a $5,000 Emergency Fund grant was to the organization in a year when “COVID was probably the greatest obstacle we’ve ever faced,” she said. Going to crisis support services at the Whistler Drop-In Centre, which assists survivors of gender-based violence in accessing services, referrals, and emergency housing, the money enabled staff to pivot to virtual services in a year when client interactions for the organization increased by about 50 per cent. Additional people were added to staff the centre’s 24-hour crisis line and offer virtual video support, text support was implemented for the first time, and outdoor, physically distanced client meetings were held in certain instances.

“For survivors of domestic violence or for those living with domestic violence in the home, our biggest obstacle was ensuring those folks knew how to access those services when we weren’t able to be there on a drop-in basis,” Oakes said, noting that the drop-in centre was closed to in-person visits for two months at the start of the pandemic.

The HSWC also received a $10,000 grant last year from the foundation’s Emergency Community Support Fund, money used for the non-profit’s girls’ summer camps.

Supportive housing provider Zero Ceiling received a $1,500 Jill Ackhurst Social Action Fund grant last year that went towards training staff on how to deliver RentSmart curriculum that they could then pass on to its Work 2 Live participants, vulnerable young adults who spend at least a year living and working in Whistler.

“One of the big courses they offer is a train-the-trainer program, so myself and two of our staff participated in that program and learned how to facilitate their curriculum,” co-executive director Sean Easton explained. “It’s all about a really pragmatic approach to understanding your rights and responsibilities and also informing around the fact that rental is about relationships, with your landlord, your roommates and your neighbours.”

The Whistler Writing Society, organizers of the Whistler Writing Festival, were the recipients of an $1,000 Barb and Terry Deutscher Fund grant for its Authors in Schools program, which invites renowned Canadian authors to visit students and discuss one of their books, which are provided to classes across the corridor. Last year, the program moved online, which allowed the society to expand its reach beyond the Sea to Sky, into 26 schools in B.C.

“Going forward we’re going to try to keep that idea of the recording the livestream and hopefully still be able to offer the in-person program in our Sea to Sky schools—but offer the video livestream to all schools in B.C.,” explained society board member Rebecca Wood Barrett.

A long-time grant recipient, the Stewardship Pemberton Society was awarded an $9,500 Environmental Legacy Fund grant for its Feasting For Change programming, which includes a variety of green initiatives, such as a seed library, the Pemberton Fruit Tree Project, and the newly revived Pemberton Crabapple Project.

“The projects all aim to benefit the community and the environment in diverse and innovative ways, from environmental protection to community engagement support and food literacy,” Jones said. “The reach is far and wide.” 

The WCF handed out more than 90 grants and scholarships, totalling $328,970, in a year where markets were depressed by the pandemic, up from $323,869 in 2019. It also took in $258,406 in donations, down from $271,243 in 2019.

To view the entire AGM report, visit