Camp Brébeuf in Rockwood, Ont., will operate day camps in August, but has taken an economic hit with the news that the government has ruled overnight camp programs will not be allowed in the province. Photo courtesy Diocese of Hamilton

Hamilton CYO’s future hangs in balance

By 
  • June 28, 2020

The Catholic Youth Organization in Hamilton has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, so much so that it’s at the point of wondering if it will be able to carry on beyond this summer.

“If we do not have the opportunity to generate substantial funds over the next eight weeks, the total existence of this agency is in the balance,” said executive director John Spatazzo.

It’s a rather simple problem the CYO is faced with. It’s a fee-for-service agency and since March 13 there have been no services to provide as all programs have been shut down by government order. That translates into its athletic, camping and outdoor education programs which serve about 25,000 kids plus Marydale Park have not been bringing any funds into the organization, and that’s been compounded by the province pulling the plug on all overnight camping this summer. Camp Brébeuf and Camp Marydale are the CYO programs that bring in enough money to keep the not-for-profit agency afloat, and the loss of revenue from the camps will be devastating.

While day camps have been given the green light to operate, it comes with safety measures like providing PPE (personal protective equipment) which CYO will have to pay for out of its own pocket, and that has proven to be too much for the CYO to handle, said Karen Hartnett, Marydale Park director of operations and fund development. The CYO has decided not to open Camp Marydale this summer, and Camp Brebeuf will only offer day camp during August.

It’s all added up to layoffs for all but Spatazzo, Hartnett and two other staff. That’s 80 per cent of staff out of work.

“As a little nonprofit that has made no money and depleted much of our funds trying to just employ the four staff we’ve kept, we’re not sure where we’re going to get the money to pay for these PPE and all these added measures,” said Hartnett.

It’s the same lament many camps have in these times. The Ontario Camps Association said most day camps have decided not to run given the risks as well as government and public health guidelines, said executive director Joy Levy. She understands where these camps are coming from though.

“There are many factors to consider, and the OCA supports the decision of each individual camp, as long as those that open carefully implement the government and public health guidelines,” said Levy.

The CYO needs at least $45,000 a month to operate, which covers insurance, property taxes, maintenance, wages and more, said Spatazzo.

“With all the complications and restrictions and protocols that have to be in place, not that we’re looking to make money, but we don’t have money to lose,” he said.

It’s making efforts and has just launched its “Keep the CYO Whole” fundraising campaign with a $1-million goal. It hopes to raise $250,000 this summer and the same amount each following season.

The CYO has also been hampered by a lack of government funding, in particular the Canada Summer Jobs program. Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising total coverage of CSJ positions, CYO was only approved for three positions, all at Camp Brébeuf. That’s far short of past seasons.

“We applied for over 65 positions at our Camp Brébeuf site and 103 positions at our Camp Marydale site,” said Hartnett.

Spatazzo knows if day camps don’t operate, there will be a trail of unhappy parents, and he’s already hearing from some. He’s sympathetic to their plight.

“This totally goes against our mission, vision and values not to offer these programs. It’s heartbreaking that we have to make these decisions,” he said.

There is still hope, much depending on the fundraising campaign. But time is not on their side. It could affect how — or if — CYO returns.

“If things do not change dramatically by Sept. 1 financially, we will have to make a decision on whether we, I keep using this term and I’m tired of it, I think we may have to mothball the agency for a period of time,” he said.

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