It has always been a bit of a quandary for those of us on the communications committee of Bowen’s Community Foundation. How can we write a story about our Helping Hand Fund? Because we need to maintain and respect the privacy of our recipients, we can’t use their names and we can’t describe the specifics of our grants to them. But we do want to write about the Helping Hand because it is one of our most important funds, providing assistance for vulnerable individuals and families on Bowen “who are suffering as a result of unemployment, serious injury or illness, or severe personal financial hardship”.
The fund began in 2012, an initiative of Shelagh MacKinnon of the Little Red Church and Joyce Ganong, former Chair of the Foundation. “We had this idea of providing financial assistance to those in need”, said Shelagh, adding, “although we have provincial medical coverage, there are extra expenses borne by the patient and their families, especially for cancer therapies”.
As Shelagh also noted, “It is not a loan, but a grant, a gift, a way of saying ‘you are not alone and the caring of island residents is with you’. We are glad to be there to support families going through hard times due to all the vagaries of life in the 21stcentury: family break-up, financial distress, or simply trying to cope in very difficult circumstances”.
It was Soren Hammerberg, the past chair of the Bowen Community Foundation, who then worked to create a structure for the Helping Hand Fund. “This fund has become the social conscience of the Foundation,” he said recently, “speaking to who we are as islanders, assisting neighbours who need a helping hand”. Since 2013 the Foundation has committed to providing an annual amount of $10,000 for this initiative.
The tenets of the Helping Hand were set out about five years ago – a committee of locally engaged islanders meets monthly to identify vulnerable individuals in need, drawing on referrals from the RCMP, the oncology department at Lions Gate Hospital, the Caring Circle, and community members who work on the island. As an example of the committee’s outreach, both Paulo Arreaga of the RCMP and Colleen O’Neil of Caring Circle have been asked to come to meetings to speak to the kinds of assistance that are most needed on Bowen.
A Director of the Community Foundation’s Board also sits on the committee, a position currently held by Larry Lunn. It is a role that provides for oversight of the Fund by the Foundation. The maximum grant is $1,000 and confidentiality is critical; the individual names of grant recipients are never made public. A special thanks to islanders Gary Ander, Amanda Oekeloen and Spencer Grundy, who have served on this committee since its inception.
Since 2013, the Helping Hand Fund has given an average of 10 grants per year to Bowen Island individuals and families in need. And since 2016 the Knick Knack Nook has generously provided $5,000 annually to support the Fund, a key part of their mandate to provide Bowen Islanders with some measure of social sustainability.
Well, perhaps we can give you a small peek into the kinds of grants that we have given over the past five years, without compromising the privacy of our grant recipients: transportation to hospitals for ill children and adults; accommodation in the city while children are undergoing treatment; food vouchers for those who have fallen between the cracks; emergency assistance after difficult family breakdowns. Key to our giving is the philosophy embraced by Shelagh MacKinnon in a recent comment she made from her new home on Vancouver Island, “It is a hand up, not a hand out. The committee is grateful for this opportunity to be of service.”
As we wind down the 2018 calendar year, the Bowen Island Community Foundation is aiming to create an endowment for the Helping Hand, ensuring that we have sufficient capital to allow us to continue to make these grants in perpetuity to Bowen Islanders in need. If you are able to contribute, please consider going to bowenfoundation.com, click the button on the front page that says “Donate Now”, and select the Helping Hand Fund from the list of available funds. Any amount would be very much appreciated – a commitment of conscience, as Soren Hammerberg put it, to assisting those of our neighbours who are in need of a helping hand.
Neil Boyd, Director, Bowen Island Community Foundation
Published in Bowen Island Undercurrent
August 20, 2018