The long road to the St. Catharines Community Fund goes back to 1994, when the council of the day approved in principle the proposal by Councilor Judy Casselman to form a committee to investigate heritage preservation. Initially, the focus was on finding a means to assist in protecting and maintaining St. Catharines' heritage, both natural and architectural. The Preservation Trust Committee set about establishing the objectives and terms of reference under which the community could acquire and restore heritage sites and buildings.
However, its focus expanded as a broader community need became apparent to committee members. In late November 1997, as the committee explored the types of structures which could accomplish these goals, it learned of established organizations called community foundations. Now in a number of major Canadian cities, community foundations have built substantial financial resources to assist projects deemed to be of benefit to the community.
During the following year, the committee met with the president and CEO of Community Foundations of Canada, Monica Patten, and other executives, managers and volunteers of various community foundations. It was the intent of the committee to incorporate a community foundation for St. Catharines, obtain charitable status, elect a board of directors and proceed with the solicitation and investment of donor funds.
At the same time, however, a similar movement was afoot at the regional level. In 1999, the Regional Government of Niagara initiated, as a millennium project, the formation of a Niagara Community Foundation. It has reached the point of incorporation, has received a charitable charter and formed a board of directors as well as establishing an administrative office. Donations already exceed $500,000.
How then could a St. Catharines community fund best fit with the objectives of the Niagara Community Foundation? Both organizations agreed there was an opportunity for a symbiotic relationship, in which both the region wide and the city's organizations could work toward a common cause.
A partnership was formed and an agreement prepared, with the assistance of the Niagara Community Foundation, members of the Community Foundations of Canada, city staff and local barrister, Harry J. Daniel. This agreement formalized the relationship between the Niagara Community Foundation and the St. Catharines Community Fund.
Members of the St. Catharines Community Fund Development Team include: Rosemary Auld, Frank Caplan, Dave Howes, Anne Marie Palombo, Peter Partridge, and Doug Whyte.
The primary focus of the St. Catharines Community Fund has been its Investing in St. Catharines Youth Fund, an initiative to help young people in financial need fully participate in the recreational, sports and cultural life of the City. The Fund was created in 2004 under the leadership of Mayor Tim Rigby through the proceeds from the Mayor's Au Marche, an annual dinner dance held in the Market Square each August. This event continues under the leadership of Mayor Brian McMullan. Since its creation, the fund helps over 100 children each year who face financial challenges.
The prime beneficiaries of the Investing in St. Catharines Youth Fund are the Prokids Program of the Niagara Region and the YMCA of Niagara, and the Jump Start Program of Community Care St. Catharines Thorold.