Centre Jeunesse Unie holds online fundraiser after funding is cut
With the holiday season fast approaching, many people across the neighbourhood are beginning to prepare for family celebrations and starting their Christmas shopping for gifts they will share with their families.
The holiday spirit is just as alive at Centre Jeunesse Unie on Bloomfield, which is currently preparing holiday activities. Celebrations and gifts are a yearly happening at the centre with local youth looking forward to it all year.
Pamela Baptiste is a social worker and a part-time volunteer at the centre, mentoring a small group of girls. Every year she organizes a holiday party for them and gives them gifts to celebrate the holiday season.
But with the loss of a portion of their funding this year, Baptiste has been forced to recalibrate how the centre pays for the presents they usually give out. She started a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of keeping celebrations alive this year.
Baptiste works with a group of about a dozen girls every Saturday, promoting their participation in activities at the centre and mentoring them on a wide variety of subjects.
“They often have parents that are a little stricter with rules not always the same between the boys and the girls,” explained Baptiste, adding that hosting the workshop on Saturdays gave them more liberties and time to see each other.
“Every year when there are special events like Christmas, we have a party with the girls,” she said, adding it’s “something the girls love and it’s an opportunity for them to celebrate Christmas seeing as they often don’t celebrate it at home.”
“They grew up in Quebec and got to know the customs, Christmas has become more commercial than religious,” explained Baptiste, saying the girls found it important to celebrate.
Due to changes in government funding to the centre, they were forced to cut down on some of the Christmas activities planned for this year. “We don’t have the funds to offer them Christmas gifts,” said Baptiste.
She took matters into her own hands and raise money on her own. She set up a GoFundMe page with the fundraising objective of $550. Since it was created on Nov. 13, the page has raised $420 through 12 separate donations and is fast approaching its goal.
“I told myself I could start a GoFundMe to be able to offer them Christmas presents,” she added, highlighting that “it would be their only opportunity to celebrate Christmas and get presents like last year. They really loved it and had a lot of fun, it brings them so much joy.”
“We will organize a Christmas party during our girls’ activity and would like to give them a present for their hard work and participation all year long,” reads the description. The fundraiser is still open and those who are interested can donate any amount they please up to Dec. 1.
Although the fundraiser is going well, the ordeal begs the question of why it is that Parc-Extension’s only youth centre does not have enough funds to host a Christmas party for 12 girls.
According to the centres’ Director-General Richard Vachon, the issue can be attributed to a change in policy implemented last year. “We lost about $40,000 through a fund that comes from the provincial government and is subsequently distributed by the municipality,” explained Vachon, specifying they had been receiving the funding since 2002.
“The city rethought its way of distributing money in the borough and it resulted in Parc-Extension’s share reducing,” he added, highlighting that it accounted for a large proportion of their total annual budget currently set at around $300,000.
Vachon felt it was a shame as he had the impression the borough considered the centre an important project. “Other organizations that are quite big have kept their funding,” continued Vachon remarking that organizations like PEYO have kept their financing of $40,000.
The centre was founded in 1989 with the express objective of providing a space for youth in Parc-Extension while also promoting an environment of non-violence. What Vachon deplores is the stagnating budget, worth about half of what it was when the centre was founded.
“In 1989 the financing was $60,000 and today we’re still at $60,000,” he remarked, adding that it has remained the same over the years regardless of the increase in the cost of living. He said that this made it very difficult to maintain the same level of service.
“What I’ve lost over the last thirty years is stability in the social worker who works with the girls,” he said, adding that “in a sense, it’s the girls who have missed out.” He added that the borough could follow the lead of Rosemont and index their budget to account for inflation.
He stressed that this was not about resources but rather political will. “Is youth in Parc-Extension in 2021 worth 50% less than in 1989?” he asked. “It frustrates me to my core.”