Looking through a social justice lens 

Ensuring equal access and opportunities for all community members

By Erica Osburn

The Food Bank. Emergency shelters. The Crisis Line. Three services essential to the social support network in any community. In times of crisis they may be the difference between suffering alone and finding the support to go on.

But as important as emergency services are, Peter Ackhurst, of the Community Foundation of Whistler, recognizes there are less critical situations where people also need support.

“There are many people in Whistler and Pemberton who are in need, but not in crisis,” he says. “These people are trying to make ends meet, and trying to remain in Whistler, but do need assistance. Unfortunately, most social services require a person to be in dire circumstances in order to access them.”

What Ackhurst is talking about is known generally as social justice.

“Social justice means that society should provide equal opportunity for all its members,” says Kerry Chalmers, executive director of the CFOW. “Every individual should have equal access to the benefits of a society, regardless of race, age, gender or economic status.”

Chalmers is using the concept of social justice to steer the CFOW’s efforts. Social justice is a guiding principle behind the initiatives of nearly all Community Foundations across Canada, which began exploring the role of foundations in promoting social justice in the fall of 2001.

Chalmers likes to illustrate the social justice approach with a story of a town where babies are seen floating down the river every day, each one rescued by citizens swimming into the river. “Social justice is going up river and finding out who is putting the babies in the river and why — getting to the root of the problem.

“A real life example,” she continues, “is the food bank versus Whistler’s Community Greenhouse Project (a Whistler Community Services Society initiative, now in its fourth season, which enables Whistlerites without space or adequate sunlight to grow their own food).” Both programs feed people, but “the Greenhouse Project gives people the skills they need to help themselves in the long term.”

Chalmers adds that the primary role of the CFOW is to facilitate dialogue, and fund social programs that are in sync with CFOW values. She emphasizes that organizations, not individuals, are the recipients of funding. In turn, non-profits such as the WCSS work with individuals on a one-on-one basis.

Other groups benefiting from CFOW grants in the last two years include the Rotary Club of Whistler, Signal Hill Elementary School, The Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, the Whistler Writer’s Group, and the Mount Currie Community School.

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