50 Stories Part 43: A Circle of Support
Image: Distress Centre staff at the 2019 United Way Parade.
Distress Centre has always depended on corporate, government and private funders in order to fulfill their mandate in the community. In 2019, for example, 40 organizations provided major funding to DC, many of them long-term partners. To list all those who contributed over 50 years would take this whole story, so what follows is a small representation, offered with many sincere thanks to all.
Often, when Distress Centre makes a funding presentation or applies for a grant, it leads to more than just monetary contributions. Many Board members, individual donors and volunteers become further involved as a result. Likewise, some DC volunteers work for organizations who are committed to supporting the community, by being funders of the Distress Centre.
Mohammed Kadar started as a ConnecTeen volunteer, and is currently a branch manager at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC):
“When I was volunteering at DC I noticed that RBC was a sponsor. I wanted to work for an organization that thinks this work is important. I now help RBC with Outrun the Stigma and the Hitmen games.”
RBC was the first corporate sponsor of record, going back to the early 1970s. Sandy Pound, former DC Board member and Regional Vice President for RBC discusses the relationship:
“RBC has been a big supporter in monetary ways, but also through Outrun The Stigma and other events in the community. We encourage our employees to be active at the grass roots level.
“We have a real focus at RBC on mental health. Sometimes people want community or independent help and advice. I always ensure that people know, not just for themselves, but for their teams and families and friends, the work of Distress Centre.”
Susan Anderson, VP and Chief Procurement Officer at Husky Energy describes their involvement:
“In 2002, the CEO of Husky identified a need for emergency assistance for people in the city of Calgary, so he set up a fund. We interviewed a number of potential agencies and Distress Centre had just set up their Instrumental Needs Fund which seemed like a nice fit. Barb Litchinsky (ED) told us what their criteria would be and how they would use it. We voted right then and there that the recipient should be Distress Centre.
“I have personally referred people to Distress Centre and through the years have become a personal donor and a personal advocate as well.
“I pulled up a 2009 article about an emergency Husky donation to the Instrumental Needs Fund, and it could be from today. We are a city where people fall through the cracks. A company like Husky, who have been around for a long time, can help bridge that gap. This is something I am proud of.”
Ron Prokosch, former Distress Centre Board Chair, talks about Rotary clubs providing non-corporate support:
“I have been very active with Rotary, and if it isn’t one club it is another, contributing funding to Distress Centre. It is a community-oriented organization, and many of the programs and equipment that Distress Centre needs, Rotary has been able to come up with the funds.”
''I have been very active with Rotary, and if it isn’t one club it is another, contributing funding to Distress Centre. It is a community-oriented organization, and many of the programs and equipment that Distress Centre needs, Rotary has been able to come up with the funds.'' - Ron Prokosh
The United Way is another long-time major funder (thanks to their own donors), with an inter-dependent and supportive relationship. Heather Innes, a former United Way employee as well as a former Distress Centre client, notes:
“Distress Centre comes out every year to the United Way kickoff parade and they run an annual workplace campaign to raise funds. They also support through the Speakers’ Bureau and Day of Caring tours.
“The United Way relies on a lot of the data that the Distress Centre collects. What are the trends, what are people calling about, what are the highest call volumes related to, where are the gaps in services? I think the DC is critical in that work. Because I have been personally supported by them I will always be an advocate.”
Under a variety of program names, the City of Calgary has been a long-term provider of funding for Distress Centre. Katie Black, former DC Manager and current General Manager of Community Services at the City:
“The funding program is called FCSS and the standing committee of City Council, called the Community and Protective Services Council, serves as the FCSS board for the City of Calgary. We continue to fund them because DC remains a fundamental pillar of support for our community.”
Private foundations, like the William S. Herron Family Charitable Foundation, also play their part. Bill Herron and Jim Lathrop comment:
“We started funding DC in 2012, and we have donated just over $300,000. We have migrated towards homelessness, substance abuse, hospices, scholastic awards–places that get people up and going. We like to think they are areas that if we were not there, they probably would not be able to carry on.
“The thing we focus on is in the financials, how much of our dollar goes to the work they are doing? I am happier if they just take our money and spend all their time doing their work, as opposed to worrying about where their next donation is coming from.
''The thing we focus on is in the financials, how much of our dollar goes to the work they are doing? I am happier if they just take our money and spend all their time doing their work, as opposed to worrying about where their next donation is coming from.'' - Jim Lathrop
“Bill Herron Senior came to Calgary early and the Herron family have been part of the city growing up from the 1900s. I feel really fortunate that I am able to help folks in the city through this foundation because there is no end to the need, and we want to help offset some of that need. ”
Karen MacDonald sums up the circle of support Distress Center receives. She’s a volunteer and donor (along with her son Nik), as well as the Director of Investment for Viewpoint Group, a funder of the Lend An Ear event:
“Viewpoint Group employees have a discretionary allocation that we donate to charitable organizations, and that is how I started as a donor. The family who started the Foundation has a real connection with mental health. A lot of it is the really good outcomes measurement the Distress Centre does. That matters to us as a funder. We try to be really evidence based with all the work we do at the Foundation.”
In the current COVID-19 fundraising climate, funders and donors have an even more important and much appreciated role to play in allowing Distress Centre to continue serving the community.