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Barrhead non-profit struggling to keep doors open

Ripple Connection Support Centre asks Town of Barrhead council for financial support
Ripple Connection Support Centre board member Deb Breitkrietz walks Town of Barrhead councillors through a slide presentation outlining the not-for profit's financial difficulties during their April 9 meeting.

BARRHEAD - They did not want to do it, but the Ripple Connection Support Centre (RCSC) felt they had no choice.

On April 9, a delegation from RCSC, including board members Deb Breitkrietz and Steve Bizuns, asked Town of Barrhead councillors to consider contributing financially to the organization, which they said had fallen on dire straits. 

Town councillors suggested that the RCSC come back to council with a more specific ask, saying they would be hard-pressed to grant such an open-ended request.

The RCSC is a not-for-profit organization which opened in 2010; it provides services for people who directly have mental illness and brain injuries, as well as their families and caregivers.

Initially, the delegation had been slated for the Oct. 10, 2023 council meeting.

In the mid-September e-mail to the town asking to address council, Breitkrietz stated that the organization "desperately needed support from the [Barrhead municipalities] to keep the services the RCSC provides and its doors open."

"We believe the centre provides a vital service to the community .... operate on the philosophy that everyone can reduce the stigma attached to mental health," Breitkrietz said.

She said the centre on Main Street, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., provides people with a "safe haven" regardless of their situation, and offers patrons counselling and referral services.

Breitkrietz then described some of the centre's programming, adding that much of it is presented in conjunction with or in partnership with other organizations and agencies.

One of the organizations she said the RCSC often works with is Alberta Health Services (AHS).

One of the more recent courses the RCSC offered with the help of AHS was a five-week series on learning how to live with anxiety.

Other programs regularly offered by the centre include Strengthening Families Together, a 10-session education program for family members and friends of individuals with serious and persistent mental illnesses.

"[The Ripple] is not just for adults," Breitkrietz added, adding that the pandemic was especially difficult for children still experiencing the impact. "Some of it will improve over time, but as a former school teacher with 30 years of experience, the effect we see on children is phenomenal — far more reaching than parents are often aware — which is why we provide some mental health and self-care tips for kids."

Breitkrietz said one of the more popular and utilized programs is the nutritional program, which provides patrons with healthy hot lunches for a modest fee Monday through Friday.

She added that Ripple also offers evening programming on Wednesdays and Fridays, which allows patrons to get together socially and participate in peer-to-peer counselling groups.

"There are often several licensed practitioners on-site, and we have a registered psychologist on the board. We also bring guest counsellors who often sit in or lead discussions," Breitkrietz said.

Breitkrietz noted that they also make their space, which they expanded in 2020, available to other groups offering programming, such as self-defence, yoga, and Bible studies.

She said they have struggled to strive for financial independence while keeping programming course costs affordable in recent years.

As for funding, Breitkrietz said in addition to applying for grants and hosting several annual fundraising efforts, such as hot dog sales, bingo, and volunteering at the Blue Suede Music Festival, where they receive a large food donation, much of the RCSC funding comes from its thrift store.

"Unfortunately, that has often proven insufficient," she said. "This is why we are asking [the town] for financial support, whether a monthly or one-time contribution. It would greatly relieve some of the financial stresses the board faces in making decisions to support the residents of Barrhead and surrounding areas."

Coun. Dave Sawatzky asked for exactly how much they needed to be financially viable.

"The number of people looking for services has exponentially increased in the last three years," Breikrietz responded, noting that the last year has been especially challenging.

She added that they've operated at a loss in five out of the last 12 months.

"There were times when we wondered if we could keep the building and pay our rent. I admit there were times when we fell in arrears," Breitkrietz said. 

She said the money was so tight that they were sometimes forced to modify their hours and rely almost entirely on volunteers. 

Breitkrietz added that RCCS' former director stepped down so they could pay the rent.

Bizuns agreed, saying they are trying to run as efficiently as possible.

"We were providing housing, putting people up in hotels, but we had to stop that. Now, we have people sleeping on the street. We can't have them sleeping in our building because we can't staff it 24 hours a day," he said, adding that, at times, it has also become an issue for police.

In August, three youths were charged with several offences after an assault involving bear spray and a BB gun of a reported homeless individual.

Coun. Dausen Kluin asked if the RCSC had any steady source of funding.

Breitkrietz replied that they get funding from AHS but only every second year, adding they also get casino funding.

"But again, that is not every year, and it is inconsistent," she said. "It costs close to $120,000 annually to keep the doors open. Our rent is $2,500 a month."

Coun. Don Smith asked how many clients the centre serves monthly.

Bizuns said it was difficult to come up with a firm number, noting that they do have a volunteer who tracks the number of people they serve hot lunches to, and that number can vary daily from 15 to over 60 people.

Mayor Dave McKenzie interjected, saying while they did not want the RCSC to necessarily open up their books to the municipality to make a decision, council needed a more detailed account of their financial situation and a more detailed ask.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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