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Children's foundation challenged to keep up with demand increase

Free to Play helps low-income families fund activities for their children, including playing sports, going to camp, or participating in the arts
File photo



With three more weeks of summer camp and the busy fall registration period still to come, the Children’s Foundation has already reached their annual budget for their Free to Play Program. As a result, they are actively looking for ways to increase funding to help cover the remainder of summer plus fall activities for local kids.

Free to Play helps low-income families fund activities for their children, including playing sports, going to camp, or participating in the arts.

“Being able to participate in recreational activities means children are being active, taking part in new life experiences, learning valuable social skills, developing friendships, and engaging in their community,” says Executive Director Glenna Banda. “It’s difficult to imagine saying no to financial assistance that would allow a child to access these important personal development opportunities.”

Families are eligible for the Free to Play program if their household income falls below Statistics Canada low-income cut-off level. Over 10,000 children and youth in Guelph and Wellington are living in low-income situations and are financially eligible for the program.

“We want to ensure that the families who need this program know that it’s here. We’ve been working hard to connect with them through social service agencies and recreation providers,” says Program Director Karyn Kirkwood. “The good news is that it’s working, but the challenge is to keep up with this increase in demand financially.”

Banda adds, “We have had some great community support and fundraising success, but unfortunately the demand has outpaced our available funding.” This past week, the Foundation made the difficult decision to increase the Free to Play budget by $30,000 to ensure that children applying would be able to register for remaining summer and fall activities.

With an already tight budget for the year, this decision means the Foundation may need to access their reserve fund to make this funding possible. “Ideally we could raise an additional $30,000 to help with this budget shortfall so that we don’t have to access our reserve, but we’re thankful that it’s there if we need it. The real challenge for us is to keep this important service sustainable and to have the funding available again next year.”

Fortunately, some Free to Play program partners, including the City of Guelph, have stepped up to help provide opportunities this fall for City of Guelph activities, which will allow additional children to participate.

This year, 1,661 activities have already been funded through Free to Play, the most popular activities being camp, swimming and soccer. Overall, $280,000 in financial assistance has been distributed through the Free to Play Program along with $22,000 in activities the Foundation has facilitated as the local Canadian Tire Jumpstart partner.

Free to Play receives support from community partners including the City of Guelph, the County of Wellington and fee-waiving partnerships with local recreation providers.

One mom who has received funding reflected on her experience, “The additional benefits aside from the hard skills he’s acquired from participating in organized sports are invaluable and we are very grateful. My son has shown improvements in his self-esteem and communication skills and is happier overall. I’d also just like to add how the staff have always treated me with courtesy and respect and never looked or talked down to me.”

In addition to the Free to Play program, the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington also runs the Adopt-A-Family holiday program, the Food & Friends student nutrition program, and the Scholarships program. 

For more information, please contact:

Karyn Kirkwood, Program Director

The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington

87 Waterloo Ave, Guelph, N1H 3H6

519-826-9551, Ext. 23