I have felt both proud and humbled to have been allowed to lead the Board of Fernwood NRG for the past 5 years. I’m passing the torch of leadership to Kelsey Singbeil and Eric Swanson who will be Fernwood NRG’s new Co-Chairs of the Board.

›› Michael Lancaster

Dear Fernwoodians, this last year has been both challenging and rewarding. The challenges may seem obvious—­providing childcare, and ­community services to ­support our ­community during an unprecedented ­pandemic. The rewards, for Fernwood NRG, have been the growth of the strength of the organization.

In April of 2020, we were forced to close the doors to our regular childcare programs for a week and then we reopened for emergency childcare services. In ­September of 2020, we reopened all of our regular programs and were back up to 105 ­childcare spots. The strength and success of our programs has set us up well in the eyes of funders. So much so that in April 2021 we signed another year long contract with the provincial government to remain a prototype site. This is allowing us to provide childcare for $10 a day. This is truly a great resource for families when the overall cost of living, including rent, is getting so expensive. We view this as a way that we can make life in Fernwood more affordable for young families. We have further plans on the horizon to expand our daycare ­operations in the neighbourhood, so stay tuned!

In our community we saw a dramatic increase in food insecurity due to loss of jobs and wages, and lack of accessibility during the pandemic. Fernwood NRG stepped up with the Good Food Box ­
program. We consolidated the leadership of the program with full time employees of Fernwood NRG, streamlined processes, and were able to cut costs while increasing the number of boxes. With such strong infrastructure in place, and a well-known brand, emergency funding for this work was an easy ask and foundations came to the table with more funding to increase the amount of food we pack and deliver.

In the beginning of the pandemic, most family program outreach services went online or by phone and later opened up to programming outdoors. However, not surprisingly, the needs of families increased during the pandemic, our ability to meet those needs was challenged. Again, the organization met this challenge and we were able to secure additional funding to increase hours of front line staff to help with the immense workloads. As we move into the fall, family programs will ­continue online and also indoors as an essential service with limited participation and health ­protocols. Our Seniors programs are continuing with phone calls and we can provide take out meals and in time we will be providing in-person meals again. Also, Fernwood NRG has just hired a part time youth coordinator to develop a long ­overdue youth program.

The year also showed us the need to ­connect with our tenants in a different way and so we created a new position for a ­tenant relations coordinator, who is someone that works with our family programs team as well.

As much as we had some successes during the year, we also faced some financial ­challenges. It was with some regret that we said goodbye to the 1310 Gladstone ­building and the Fernwood Yoga Den. Thankfully we were able to find a neighbourhood ­business ­interested in the property. The owners of the ­Fernwood Inn have purchased 1310 Gladstone and are eager to continue to provide Fernwood with services going ­forward.

While we weren’t able to have our usual annual FernFest—also known as Victoria’s best party—we did bring some fun to the neighbourhood with the ­Fernwood Mural Festival. ­Partial proceeds from the mural festival silent auction went to the Victoria Native Friendship ­Centre. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that FernFest will go ahead in 2022.

I think it’s really important for me to emphasize that when I say ‘we’, I really mean the dedicated staff and volunteers of the Fernwood NRG. I’m in awe when I think about how hard they have been working. Their hearts and souls are poured into making the lives of Fernwoodians ­better. I have felt both proud and humbled to have been allowed to lead the Board of this organization. I’m passing the torch of leadership because it’s important that an organization revitalize and change its leadership. I will still be a board member and of course an enthusiastic supporter of this great ­neighbourhood. Thank you Fernwood.