Million dollar gift gives 40 for 40! Barrie wins!

Now, here’s a winning story.  It’s a social media story, a charity story, and it involved the whole community, and Barrie’s a winner.

When The Keg restaurant chain was deciding how to celebrate its 40-year anniversary with a Thanks a Million campaign.  The company decided to engage communities in its celebration.  They divided North America into 40 different regions and assigned a winning prize of $25,000 for each region…. $1 million in all.

They put out invitations for proposals to charities in each region, asking how they would spend $25,000 if they won, how would the project benefit the community?

Barrie’s Women’s & Children’s Shelter put out a project proposal called New Beginnings, a plan for second stage housing in the Barrie community.  For women and their children who are living at the Barrie shelter, finding employment and housing is the greatest challenge, after they’ve left their abusive environment.  Often, women move from shelter to shelter, maxxing out allowable time as they try to get their lives back together.

Heather Croft, Community Development Coordinator for the Centre tells the story of one woman who’s been waiting for housing for seven months.  With two children, aged 13 and 17, she’s job hunting and trying to get retraining or work.  She can afford to pay $400 a month.  She’s not going to find a three-person unit for $400 in Barrie unless she’s in rent-geared-to-income housing… and that’s a long, long waiting list.  New Beginnings would subsidize a woman’s rent for a year by providing a place to pull one’s life into full, supportable focus.

The Shelter proposal was selected along with five other projects in what was called the Toronto North Region.  Using Facebook, Twitter, Email campaigns, the Keg then turned the voting over to the community at large.  Using social media votes, the Shelter vascillated back and forth from first to second place.  At the end of June, the Shelter got the call!  First place, and $25,000 was theirs to get New Beginnings launched.

The Shelter is now seeking a building that can be renovated to accommodate women-lead families who are moving from crisis to calm in their lives. The building will have small apartments (hopefully to accommodate between 8 and 14 families) who will be there for the short term while a woman takes re-training and gets back into the workforce.

This project will be community-wide, and the Shelter hopes it achieves a number of things.  First, obviously, is to get families out of crisis and on the path to self sufficiency.  Second, to remove the stigma around family abuse so a woman will come forward for help.  Third, to get community support for funding different aspects of the projects.

“We’re calling it New Beginnings,” says Heather. “Because that’s what it really is.”

Our not-so-great track record in the community includes the fact that Barrie police receive 137 calls a month concerning violence against women.  1 in 4 children have watched their mother being abused, and many of these children will become abusers or victims unless there is intervention, counseling and family change.

The Barrie Shelter, built in 1989, to house 27 people, is almost always over capacity, with 1500 families accessing service each year.  The Shelter operated out our of house on Berczy St for its first eight years.

New Beginnings plans to purchase and renovate an existing building, and hopes to use The Keg win for enhanced security and lighting around the building.  This is a great initiative and a true demonstration of the power of social media.  You can read more on the shelter website:

Thanks, Heather, for a great story.  Stay tuned.