“I’ll never forget March 17, 2020,” said Jennifer Chuckry, executive director of Surrounded by Cedar Child & Family Services. “We told everyone to ‘go home and don’t come in tomorrow.’ Like many organizations, we were trying to figure things out on the fly. Thank goodness for our flexible team and their passion for supporting the children and youth we work with, because we had only three laptops for our group of 30 and a single teleconference line that cost us six cents per minute — per user — dialling in. We didn’t have Skype or Zoom yet, and it was incredibly stressful.”
“It was the Rapid Relief Fund that actually mobilized us to be able to do the work virtually. The Victoria Foundation reached out to connect with us, and I gave them a list of what we were doing and what we needed. Then lo and behold, we had $84,000 in our account. I was humbled and shocked. It really was the Victoria Foundation’s Rapid Relief Fund that made it possible for us to continue to do our work.”
Surrounded by Cedar Child & Family Services is a delegated agency that provides child and family support, rooted in Indigenous cultural values, to Indigenous children and youth so they can grow up connected to family, community, and culture. The agency is deeply connected to the community through programs for caregivers, child and youth counselling, cultural programming, youth agreements, Elders in Residence, and more. “We’ve hosted an annual Aboriginal Back to School picnic since 2003, providing backpacks filled with supplies for Indigenous children and youth returning to school,” shared Chuckry. “The first year, we gave out 45 backpacks. In 2019 we distributed nearly 3,500. We don’t ask people to provide proof of income or ‘demonstrate their poorness’ around why they need the supplies because life circumstances can come up for all of us. We’re focused on doing the best work we can on behalf of our kids.”
Surrounded by Cedar was also the recipient of a Community Recovery Program grant from the Victoria Foundation to fund additional office space and an upgrade to meet the demand for services during the pandemic. “Right before COVID, we finished a small renovation in our current space to fit our growing team,” explained Chuckry.
“The setup was a nice, shared space, but it wasn’t possible to have multiple people working in it with pandemic protections in place. Fortunately, another area in the building became available, and we were able to use the recovery funds to outfit it with safety in mind for our team, ensuring we could connect with more children and provide the support they need, as they need it.”
“It’s important for the Victoria community to understand the profound impact the Victoria Foundation had on small organizations in the pandemic. I think many agencies may not have survived, or be where they are today, without the critical support of the Foundation.”