Brothers Craig, foreground, and Marc Kielburger operate the various agencies surrounding WE Charity. Wikipedia

Students hit hardest by WE fallout

By 
  • July 29, 2020

While the WE Charity scandal marches on, Catholic charities that had hoped to put young volunteers to work through the Canada Student Service Grant have been left wondering when and if they will ever see federal funding to support volunteer programs.

“Any investing in youth will have benefits,” said Mary Ward Centre program director Kathy Murtha. “We were just so excited, looking forward to offering students some volunteer opportunities.”

The Mary Ward Centre had hoped to use a small slice of the $912 million Canada Summer Service Grant pie to create volunteer opportunities for up to 80 mostly high school kids. The young volunteers would have produced video and online content to support the centre’s retreat programs, which had to suddenly shift to online formats during the COVID-19 emergency.

“We came up with a whole set of projects we wanted to do. It was going to be very useful,” Murtha said.

WE Charity and its myriad of connected agencies under brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger were to run the grant program on behalf of the federal government but have stepped back after becoming entwined in the political fallout surrounding relationships between WE and the upper echelons of the Liberal government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We were eager to participate,” said Sr. Evanne Hunter of the Loretto Sisters, the religious order behind the Mary Ward Centre. “We felt (it) would benefit both students and the Mary Ward Centre.”

Because the program would be administered by the WE Charity, three teachers who had experience working with WE, along with a younger Loretto Sister in formation, had signed up to direct and monitor the student volunteers. Without WE, Murtha and Hunter worry that those teachers won’t have the support to take on the project.

“In my opinion WE would have done a great job and this lost opportunity is a tragedy,” said Hunter. “No matter who bears the blame, it’s students and society that have lost out.”

Murtha has reservations about WE but she can’t imagine the federal civil service or any other organization getting the program up and running quickly.

“I have a little bit of hesitancy about WE. I feel like they’ve monopolized a little bit of the charity field and they’re a bit flashy,” she said, before adding “if you wanted to get it done fast, get this thing moving off the ground fast, they’ve got the structures in place and they’ve got a wide reach.”

The San Damiano Foundation, which runs youth projects in Madoc, Tweed and Trenton in eastern Ontario, doesn’t normally apply for government funding. But foundation president Colleen Hiltz-McCallister believes her Franciscan organization could have provided important opportunities for young volunteers.

“Faith-based organizations should not be left out of the culture (or) forming the next generation of leaders,” Hiltz-McCallister told The Catholic Register via Facebook Messenger.

In Toronto, Faith Connections program director Sabrina Chiefari believes the best way to help the older youth her agency serves is to give them a job through the Canada Summer Jobs program.

“I feel like that was an appropriate model. It allowed organizations to be able to open up spaces to take on young people into these sorts of professional roles and responsibilities,” Chiefari said.

Rewarding volunteers with a tuition subsidy blurs the line between work and volunteering, she said, but despite her philosophical disagreement with the Canada Student Service Grant, Chiefari thinks Faith Connections, as part of the suite of five Fontbonne Ministries set up by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto, could have provided meaningful volunteer opportunities.

“There are all kinds of things we could use to design a way for volunteering,” she said. “The goal of Faith Connections is to equip young adults with the tools to create community.”

The Hamilton Catholic Youth Organization has had a hard time getting funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program since the 2017 abortion attestation affair, and was looking forward being able to engage older youth. The CYO needs volunteers for everything from camp counsellors to team coaching and equipment managers.

The agency serves over 25,000 youth a year. But as students begin approaching university age, and need an income to offset tuition and other post-secondary costs, they drift away from the CYO and land jobs.

“It would allow us to keep some of those a little bit longer,” said director of fund development and Marydale Park operations Karen Hartnett.

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