United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island kicked off its annual fundraising campaign Thursday.

United Way fundraising campaign kicks off in Nanaimo

NANAIMO – Organization supports people and programs in each community it serves.

A small amount of money can go a long way to helping people overcome past hardship to be full participants in the Nanaimo community.

That’s one of the messages from the United Way of Central and Northern Vancouver Island as it kicked off its annual fundraising campaign Thursday.

The non-profit organization set a goal to raise $1.3 million for programs on the central Island. The kick-off breakfast at the Coast Bastion Hotel saw big donations from the Tom Harris Auto Group, which gave more than $16,000, and Coastal Community Credit Union, which provided more than $11,000. Costco was also highlighted for its employee giving campaign which collected more than $50,000 in donations during the past year.

The money raised goes to community programs that help some of the most vulnerable people in society, said Signey Madden, executive director of the United Way.

One of those programs is a rent subsidy provided to women who want to exit the sex trade. It came out of discussions with a cohort of social planners from the city, Vancouver Island University and others, who have been meeting for years to create alert systems when sex-trade workers go missing or are targeted for violence.

One of the issues highlighted was the challenge to find suitable housing and furnishing it while trying to connect with welfare and retraining options.

“Putting them in their own apartment, that’s something they couldn’t do on their own,” Madden said.

Taking a cue from the Housing First initiative which helped 15 chronically homeless people in Nanaimo, the United Way provided $6,000 for a rent subsidy to one worker leaving the sex trade.

“We only had enough money for one woman last year,” Madden said. “If this is going to work, maybe we can help three women next year.

“I’d like to raise another $20,000 to help someone move off the streets. It’s nothing compared to what those costs could be 10, 15 years down the road. Not to mention the human cost.”

Housing was also an issue for refugees arriving in Nanaimo, which saw families moving to the Harbour City to take advantage of a lower cost of living. In some cases, securing funding support can take up to six months, said Madden.

The United Way provided $15,000 to Nanaimo Citizen Advocacy to provide rent supplement and get families into stable housing. Madden said she’d like to double that donation as more refugees are expected to arrive next year.

Madden also wants to complement VIU’s tuition waiver program by providing support for students for things outside of schooling, such as household items, housing and more.

“We really wanted to help with something we see as really ahead of the curve,” Madden said. “We want to help [students] be successful and get out of that cycle of whatever their family cycle happened to be.”

In April, the United Way expanded to include the Cowichan Valley and now encompasses all areas of the Island from north of the Malahat to the west coast.

Madden said the consolidation allows the non-profit to streamline support staff and resources, while keeping connections in the community. Two staff members remain with the Cowichan Valley office, located in Duncan city hall.

“It’s not just the fundraising; it’s the social awareness side,” Madden said. “It saves us money so we have more money going into the community.”

A regional organization allows more collaboration with partners, such as the RCMP and Island Health, on regional issues and solutions.

To help reach the $1.3-million target, Madden is promoting the Leader Donor campaign, in which anyone pledging $1,200 a year or more is named as a Leader Donor.

For more information or to donate, please visit www.uwcnvi.ca.

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