Urban farm planting seeds of change in McQuesten

treesA banner in the McQuesten neighbourhood meeting room is covered in brightly coloured drawings of veggies and fruit. There’s a market stand. Greenhouses. People. And even a cow. Bold statements like “food oasis,” “80% production,” “school trips” and “from observer to farmer” punctuate the pictures.

This is the neighbourhood’s vision for the McQuesten urban farm—a city-owned, three-acre field behind the former St. Helen’s school on Brittania Avenue.

The farm — Hamilton’s first and still in the design phase — has its roots in the neighbourhood plan. McQuesten is currently home to a community garden, but the farm will be more than that. “Farming is an economic activity,” says project coordinator, Adam Watson. “Yes, we’re promoting healthy eating, community engagement and food security—the nearest grocery store is two kilometers away—but we’ll also be generating revenue, offering training and, potentially, employment.”

The farm is breaking new ground for Hamilton, since zoning didn’t originally permit agriculture within the urban boundary. Money-making opportunities include selling produce and value-added products (think McQuesten salsa), growing seedlings for the city’s community gardens, supplying school nutrition programs and hosting school tours. “It’s a destination for education as much as food production,” Adam says. “People want their economic activities to give back to the community.”

HCF’s support to the Urban Farm was doubled when the Foundation connected with a grant-matching program offered by the U.S.-based Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.  As a result, a new staff member started in February. “We call her a farm animator for a reason,” Adam says. “It’s her job to make the site come alive.” This summer she will be running low-cost gardening camps for up to 150 children and youth. Future activities may include cooking classes, tours and a farm volunteer program.

Partners, including the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Victory Gardens, are working with the neighbourhood to take the farm from the seed of an idea to a full-grown operation. The ownership model is a work in progress, but the goal is to have the farm run by a community partner. “This is a pilot project for Hamilton,” Adam says. “There’s great potential here for the whole city.”

Excerpt from 2015 Annual Report

Rainbow Prom: An inclusive high-school milestone

rainbowThe high school prom is a cherished tradition. It’s a celebratory experience where students say farewell to high school and hello to the next phase of life. But prom has not always been a welcoming, positive experience for every student.

In the past, many Hamilton students who identified as LGBTQI often missed out on that end-of-school marker because they felt unwelcome. In 2008, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board initiated the “Rainbow Prom,” to address that exclusion and it has since grown in stature and importance to high school students from across the city.

Saltfleet District High School’s Positive Space student group hosted the Rainbow Prom for the second time—this year supported by a grant from HCF’s Youth Advisory Council.

“The students are always looking for funding,” says teacher advisor Dubravka Prica. “HCF’s grant has allowed us to rent a banquet hall, hire a DJ, decorate with our Rainbow theme, and have a sit-down dinner for everyone attending—just like all the other proms.”

Rainbow Prom is an important event for many students who do not attend their own school prom because of feelings of anxiety, discomfort or exclusion. But every student deserves a prom—one that is affordable and makes a person feel welcome and safe.

Saltfleet District students Lillith Grace, Matthew Demers and Raisa Nevills are part of the organizing team and members of the school’s Positive Space.

“There’s absolutely no judgment at the Rainbow Prom,” says Lillith, “It doesn’t matter who you bring, what you wear, your sexual orientation or gender identity—you’re in good, welcoming company.” “It’s a great place for anyone to really be themselves,” adds Matthew.

Saltfleet District students who have attended Rainbow Prom agree that the goal of encouraging students to come together and celebrate a common cause—feeling safe, happy and included—has been a tremendous success.

Rainbow Prom is open to students from both school boards and students who have already graduated—absolutely everyone is welcome to this event explains Raisa. “You can come to the Prom knowing no one and leave with new friends.”

Excerpt from 2015 Annual Report

#HamOnt Forever

new approach to philanthropyThe digital world is a passion for local entrepreneur Chris Farias. So is Hamilton. And so is philanthropy.

By creatively combining the three – and with help from the community foundation, his peers, and local residents – he has created a fund that will give more Hamiltonians the skills and resources they need to take advantage of the digital community.

The #HamOntForever initiative used crowd-funding to raise donations from the online community. The first $10,000 in donations were matched by four donors identified by the community foundation, forming a fund to make grants promoting digital literacy.

Digital literacy is a way of life for Chris’s team at Kitestring, a creative branding company, but their work with Hamilton Community Foundation has shown them that not everyone shares that easy access. So the idea of the fund struck a chord with them – and with their local partners. Double Barrel Studios and Brave New Code “jumped in immediately,” says Chris. “This initiative would not have happened without them.”

The partners created a website and a video to launch the campaign, and wrapped up two months later with a day-long telethon, with notables like Mayor Fred Eisenberger taking a turn at promoting the cause. The effort got great media coverage and Chris hopes contributions continue to come in.  As a “perk” for donating, contributors could submit a hashtag, tweet, post, or video into a digital time capsule that will be revealed in 2030.

“For me, digital literacy means the ability to navigate, evaluate, communicate, and create online,” says Chris. He believes that Hamilton is one of the most connected communities, but wants to make sure everyone has access to that online world.  Grants will be made annually over the next 15 years to support that goal.

“Things change so fast in the digital environment,” Chris says. “Who knows what will be hot 15 years from now. Maybe we’ll open the time capsule and say ‘oh my gosh, remember Twitter?’”

Excerpt from 2015 Annual Report

Ray Brillinger and Cy Hack Fund

Ray_CyRay Brillinger and Cy Hack spent a couple of years educating themselves about community foundations before they established their fund at HCF in 2014.

Ray is a retired human resources manager and organizational change consultant. Cy spent his career in administrative, hospitality, and retail work. Both currently do volunteer work in the community.

A couple since 1982, Cy and Ray have been active supporters of key gay and lesbian groups for decades. While they have seen great progress during their lifetimes in the rights and protections for the LGBTQ community, they are well aware that the fight for dignity and equality is not over. They plan to continue supporting that sector through their fund, along with other areas that interest them – including international development charities, the arts and education opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

The community foundation model felt like a great fit for them, not only as part of their estate planning but also for their current philanthropy.  They like the flexibility the community foundation offers to build their fund over time, vary the groups they support, and grant to any eligible Canadian charitable organization.

The process of establishing the fund was a positive one. “The discussions we had about this were very comfortable,” says Cy. “We like the people at the community foundation and feel they understand what we are trying to do.”

“As we don’t have children,” adds Ray, “the fund is an important part of our estate planning.” He feels that the relationship he and Cy develop with Foundation staff over the coming years will help guide the granting decisions the Foundation makes when they are gone. While their fund agreement lays out their areas of interest, “there may be a need in the community that the staff see and say ‘that’s something Ray and Cy would have liked to support,’” he says.

The Stover Family Fund

family philanthropyMaria Antonakos and Harald Stover support the causes they care about in a variety of ways. The fund they’ve recently established at the Hamilton Community Foundation is a special pillar in that giving.

Harald, a professor in McMaster’s Department of Chemistry, describes the fund as an opportunity to address financial planning needs through a philanthropic instrument.

He explains that his side of the family came from Germany in each of three generations – his paternal grandparents in the early 1900s, his mother in the 1950s, and himself as a graduate student in the 1980s.

“My family were welcomed to Canada, and I received a great graduate education here,’” he says. “This is one way to give back to the community.”

Maria agrees. “There’s a ‘circle feeling’ about this – a looking forward and back.” She explains that she and Harald had their children late in life and that they hope to use the fund to teach their twins about managing money and being philanthropic. “This is something we can get started now, with smaller gifts, and that the kids can grow with over time.”

The endowment aspect of the fund is important to both Maria and Harald. They like the sense of permanence it provides, allowing them to focus on the grants they choose to make while they leave the investment and administration concerns to the community foundation.

For Maria, whose career has involved diverse aspects of philanthropy, the Foundation’s knowledge of Hamilton’s needs and opportunities is also a big plus. “Since I’m working outside of Hamilton,” she says about her current position with the Perimeter Institute, “this is a way to have a community focus as a family.”

Harald agrees: “The community foundation knows the local scene. They have expertise about what organizations are doing really good work in the area. It’s a great partner in our philanthropy.”

excerpt from 2015 annual report

Program for young artists moves theatre from the fringe to the centre

program for young artistsHamilton is getting its act together with a program to support its emerging theatre-makers.

ALERT, which stands for Artistic Leadership and Entrepreneurial Training, is a no-cost educational initiative of The Hamilton Fringe Festival. The focus is on helping performing artists aged 19 to 30 develop their artistic and production skills.  “We want to give a boost to the next generation,” says Claire Calnan, director of The Fringe.  “We want them to take their skills to the next level.”

The Hamilton Fringe is a perfect home for ALERT.  Like Fringe Festivals around the world, Hamilton’s group showcases the original work of emerging artists and companies of all sizes through its summer festival.  ALERT takes this support a step further.

Monthly workshops are bringing in big names from across Canada to teach the 18 participants practical skills such as budgeting, marketing, fundraising and the intricacies of producing work at non-traditional locations.  Participants will also collaborate on a winter theatre festival and mentor local youth with an interest in the arts. But a key element of the program is creating a strong sense of community among emerging artists in the city.  “We want them to inspire and push each other,” Claire says.

It’s working already.  Aaron Jan is a 22-year-old Hamilton native who has produced several successful Fringe shows.  After only one workshop, he has plans to collaborate with three other young theatre companies to ensure a year-round lineup of independent theatre in the city.

The Player’s Guild is providing rehearsal space, while support from the Hamilton Community Foundation covers workshop costs and program coordination.

Claire says there is a real need in Hamilton. “We have Theatre Aquarius and community theatre groups but there’s a middle ground that’s missing—professional theatres where artists can develop their voices and skills while producing new work,” says Claire. “HCF can take credit for helping to create the next generation of theatre-makers in the city.”

ALERT gives young artists a reason to stay in Hamilton,” Aaron says. “It offers us infrastructure and support. It’s not just about performing our work, but improving it.”

Excerpt from 2015 Annual Report

The Fairmount Foundation

Heidi Balsillie feels her new partnership with HCF is “a great way to connect with my past and, at the same time, contribute to a vital future for the city of Hamilton.” fairmont foundation

Heidi grew up in Hamilton but has lived in Waterloo for the last twenty-five years. Through her recently-established private foundation, called the Fairmount Foundation, she has joined forces with HCF to research the best ways to make post-secondary education opportunities available to all Hamiltonians.

Both HCF and Heidi believe that education will be the “game-changer” in Hamilton’s future. The Fairmount Foundation is partnering with HCF on in-depth research that is examining which models and approaches are most effective at helping youth to reach their full potential. The results will define strategies for both foundations to help youth and adults succeed in high school and beyond.

“I’m fortunate that I can be involved in this innovative groundwork with HCF,” she says about her commitment to the partnership.

The Fairmount Foundation is just two years old, and Heidi is feeling her way in the new venture. The connection to Hamilton Community Foundation’s staff and process has been a boon. In the years ahead, the two foundations expect to involve others in the collaboration.

The partnership has also cemented Heidi’s enduring ties to our area.

“The Fairmount Foundation is named for the street I grew up on in Hamilton,” she says. “And as I work through its priorities and goals, I realize that they reflect my Hamilton roots, my family, the values my parents taught us about respect and fairness.” Her siblings still live here, as do many of her friends.

Looking ahead, she acknowledges that changing the trajectory for youth in disadvantaged neighbourhoods is a long-term investment. “This kind of change does not happen quickly. But it has the potential to transform the whole community. It’s exciting. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Childcare and community help moms complete high school

back to school momsBack to School Moms has a simple formula: onsite childcare plus certified teachers plus supportive peers equals more women who successfully sit their high school equivalency exam.

The goal is to increase the women’s financial independence and, as a result, the quality of life for their children.

Newcomer moms aged 19 years and older can apply for the free program, which is delivered by the Immigrant Women’s Centre (IWC) at its Main Street location. Students in the program come from countries as diverse as Iran, China and Mexico.

Yujung Kwon is one of the moms. She arrived in Canada three years ago from Korea with an electrical engineering degree but could only find part-time work in a Korean restaurant. “I didn’t really learn English there,” she says. “In this program you learn everything in a short time. The teachers are excellent. I want to pass the test and then go to college.”

“These are women who want to work,” says Ines Rios, executive director of the IWC. “Most are educated but they don’t have Canadian credentials. Some are from war-torn areas of the world. Some are supporting their families alone because their marriages ended or they left abusive relationships. They all have children.”

Back to School Moms is the only high school completion program in Hamilton that offers onsite childcare, which Ines says is a critical need for newcomer mothers.

Supported by HCF’s Edith H. Turner Foundation Fund and Women 4 Change, the pilot year will have two separate 26-week sessions, each with 325 hours of classroom time—enough for most women to sit the General Education Development (GED) exam with confidence. Training follows the standard GED preparation textbook. Two certified teachers provide hands-on support, but the women also help each other. “We can give back to each other,” says Yujung.

“Certified teachers are key to a high quality program,” says Ines. “We think this program will be vital, not only to the women, but to the economy of Hamilton.”

Excerpt from 2015 Annual Report

Residents look to revitalize neighbourhood alleyways

Hamilton’s older urban neighbourhoods have one defining feature: alleyways. Ward 3 alone represents 37 per cent of all alleyways in Hamilton, the largest percentage of alleyways in any ward. While they offer easy access to homes and businesses, alleyways have grown to be the site for illegal dumping, overgrown vegetation and drainage problems.

Green Venture is looking to change that. Beginning with the GALA (Gibson and Landsdale Area) neighbourhood hub, the organization wants to clean up and repurpose alleyways in the neighbourhood, a task that seeks to engage GALA residents. The GALA neighbourhood has a population of more than 7,700 residents and is geographically bounded by Wellington Street North, Main Street East, Sherman Avenue South and the CN rail line. With a dual purpose of restoring natural diversity and inspiring communities to reconnect urban landscapes to nature, the Alleyway Revitalization Project taps into these local assets and builds upon local knowledge and connections.

Supported by an HCF grant, this community-led project starts by identifying potential project locations in GALA. Consultations with residents are held to review possible site plans and design options. Community surveys and consultations determine how the spaces will be improved.  In the process, residents propose alternate uses for a public alley, such as a marketplace, green space or for other community events. The goal is to reclaim alleys as public places.

There is a clear need for this project. Stormwater runoff can result to flooding, erosion and sewer overflows. Flowing rainwater over pavements also picks up polluting materials, leading to water quality degradation and compromising human health and safety.  This project includes removing some of the concrete and asphalt in alleyways and replacing it with native plants, trees and shrubs to reduce runoff, recharge groundwater supply and reduce the heat island effect.

Collaboration and partnerships with local organizations, such as the Conserver Society of Hamilton & District, the Social Planning and Research Council and the Hamilton Community Garden Network, ensures that the project draws on the expertise and assistance needed. With a year-long plan in place, Green Venture expects to affect and involve 200 people in the GALA hub. A maintenance plan will ensure sustainability and long-term care of the space after the project has ended.

Telling north Hamilton’s history and heritage

From the iconic Canadian National Railway tracks to the fast-growing development of the new James North GO station, you will find the past and present converging in north Hamilton.

Central Neighbourhood Association (CNA) wants to shed light on the rich history and celebrate the future of the neighbourhood – one story at a time. This resident-driven association was re-established in 2012 with an aim to create a forum where residents can voice their concerns and organize community initiatives. Located in the Jamesville neighbourhood, the association is bounded by Main Street West, Queen Street North, James Street North and the CN Tracks at Stuart Street, in downtown Hamilton.

In partnership with local historic landmark The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, CNA collected community stories and encourages residents to embrace Hamilton’s history through  storytelling workshops and neighbourhood walking tours, Supported by HCF, this storytelling project took place in various venues in the neighbourhood, including seniors’ homes, schools and points of historical interest. 

The six-week project called Stories from the Central involved professional storytellers providing input and guidance in the art and craft of storytelling. This culminated in a 90-minute narrated walking tour where residents shared stories about their home and neighbourhood. The project goals were to promote understanding of the past, pride in Hamilton history while providing tools for residents to enhance their involvement in the neighbourhood.