The RAFT Endowment Fund

When a donor provided the RAFT with a $100,000 gift in 2020, they did so with some specific requests. 

The money was to be used for housing. The RAFT, which provides support services for at-risk and homeless youth, also had to ensure the gift’s legacy and longevity.

Enter the Niagara Community Foundation and Executive Director Bryan Rose, who helped the RAFT establish a namesake fund that would support Niagara youth for years to come.

“The main concern was making sure the donor was satisfied with how we were investing the money,” said Mike Lethby, RAFT executive director. “Bryan laid out the options for us and tailored it to what we needed.”

The result is a fund whose dividends are used to provide monthly rental supplements between $250 and $350 to RAFT clients.

About 40 per cent of the youth the RAFT supports live outside of Niagara’s three main urban centres where there’s constricted rental housing supply and, like elsewhere in the region, rents are high. Meanwhile, the average monthly Ontario Works payment a young person receives to cover all living expenses is about $700. In comparison, rent for a one-bedroom apartment exceeds $1,000 a month. 

Uprooting a client to bring them to the RAFT’s 16-bed shelter in St. Catharines isn’t a viable alternative, Lethby explained. It takes a vulnerable youth out of their community and away from their support network.

Using The RAFT Fund to help with rent supplements ensures some stability, he said — for both RAFT clients and the organization itself. 

“That’s an established fund and we’re hoping other donors see that and donate to the fund,” Lethby said. “It’s something we thought was a real benefit to going this route with the Niagara Community Foundation. It makes us feel part of the community to have this, and there’s a sense of permanency to what we’re doing as well.”

Improving Financial Literacy

Niagara organizations that teach or encourage financial literacy now have access to a permanent source of funds, thanks to Credit Counselling of Regional Niagara.

The non-profit organization, which served over 100,000 people during the more than 40 years it was in operation in St. Catharines, closed its doors in 2019 after merging staff and operations with Toronto Credit Counselling (which has an office in St. Catharines).

As a charitable organization, Credit Counselling of Regional Niagara had to ensure that any funds it held in reserves were handed over to another charity. Executive Director Bob Lawler said it made sense to find a way to keep helping Niagara residents who need information or support to handle their financial affairs well.

Over the years, Lawler said he and his staff saw many examples of the hardship and stress caused by the lack of financial literacy, so endowing the reserve funds with the Niagara Community Foundation was a good way to ensure that the financial coaching part of their mandate could continue.

Local non-profit groups can apply for grants from the interest earned from the roughly $650,000 endowment, Lawler said, as long as their plans to use the funds align with financial literacy objectives. The money could have gone to any registered Canadian charity, but Lawler said it “made the most sense to have the funds preserved and the interest used. This way, it can go on forever.” Sounds like a good example of financial literacy!

Having a Chance to Continue Long After the Musicians are Gone

The music of Momentum Choir has a chance to continue long after the current musicians are gone, with the establishment of the choir’s new endowment fund with the Niagara Community Foundation.

The choir, which recruits, trains, and performs with adults living with a disability, was established in 2007, under the leadership of its founding director, music therapist Mendelt Hoekstra. The choir wows audiences with the elation and enthusiasm of its performances, and it gives members a feeling of pride and satisfaction to use their musical talent to entertain and inspire audiences. It’s not unusual for audience members to be moved to tears of joy when they see what the musicians are able to accomplish.

Parents who saw the value of Momentum Choir in their adult children’s lives wanted to be able to make meaningful contributions with lasting impact, Hoekstra said. They encouraged Momentum’s board of directors to establish an endowment fund. Choosing the Niagara Community Foundation as the home for that fund was an easy decision for the board to make, Hoekstra commented, especially with the way Executive Director Bryan Rose met multiple times with the board and even came to a Momentum rehearsal to see the musicians at work. Hoekstra stated the goal is to grow the Momentum Choir Fund with additional gifts – large and small – so that the annual revenue from the fund helps sustain the choir’s mission of teaching, encouraging, and loving people through music.

The fund’s donors, present and future, “want to see this organization continue for many years,” Hoekstra said. With an endowment fund in place, they can help make that happen. “They are not only thinking of their own child, they are thinking of all the others who will be benefitting.”