St. Marys approves new recreation grants just in time for reopenings


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St. Marys will begin offering recreation grants to low-income families when skating rinks, pools, theaters, museums and other public spaces are scheduled to reopen next week.

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Community politicians in southwestern Ontario on Tuesday approved a new $5,000 pilot program that will make small grants available to eligible residents of up to $100. Grants can be used to access athletic, arts, and cultural programs inside and outside of St. Marys, including helping with registration fees, supplies, and equipment.

“We know there are people who are hurting,” St. Marys Mayor Al Strathdee said Wednesday. “We work a lot with (leisure-focused charities) and community services in Stratford, but the reality is that sometimes it doesn’t cover everything. If a little money can make a difference…we just think it’s important.

The launch of the grants follows a survey the city conducted last summer to solicit feedback from residents on barriers to local programs and facilities. Advisers learned at the time that around a third of the 190 survey respondents said they had difficulty accessing leisure for a variety of reasons, including lack of money, rigid schedules and transportation issues. .

According to a staff report, most survey respondents earned an annual income of less than $40,000 and said grants of up to $100 could help reduce the financial burden of participation.

Although St. Marys is the first municipality in Perth County to offer recreation grants, staff have borrowed ideas from neighboring towns such as Kitchener, which offers recreation credits of $265 for adults and $300 $ for children. These grants are of a similar size to those found in Waterloo and Cambridge.

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“When we talk about access to recreation, that’s a pretty broad base,” St. Marys director of corporate services Andre Morin told the board Tuesday. “We want it to be not just leisure, but leisure, arts (and) cultural activities. We tried to paint this with a fairly broad stroke.

Eligibility for grants at St. Marys is based on Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-offs, thresholds that indicate when families will need to spend a larger than average share of their income on necessities.

After a concern raised by Coun. Tony Winter, Morin, said providing proof of income in an application to the city’s finance department will be “simple” and “confidential.” Staff will also be willing to work with candidates whose financial circumstances may have recently changed, Morin added.

“If we see some success here, obviously the hope would be that you expand that and get all of Perth County involved. (But) for us right now, it’s strictly a St. Marys program.

Nominations weren’t open Wednesday, but more information is expected to be announced by next week, Strathdee said.

St. Marys announced plans to reopen the city’s recreation center on Monday as provincial officials are expected to ease the latest round of public health restrictions in Ontario.

If the restrictions are lifted as planned, the aquatic center, youth center and rinks at the Pyramid Reaction Center will operate at half capacity to comply with upcoming provincial regulations, the city said. The Friendship Center will open its doors more gradually, with some virtual programming remaining in place.

Entry rules established before the lockdown will be reinstated, the city said. Visitors to the recreation center will be required to be screened for COVID-19 and anyone 12 and older will be required to show proof of vaccination before entering. Masking and physical distancing rules will also still be in effect.

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