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Published on Thursday, May 18, 2017

Every little bit can help KSM help others

Community generosity helps Oakville's Kerr Street Mission reduce debt

Every little bit can help KSM help others
Kerr Street Mission executive director Gary O'Neill at Live on Kerr celebration
Photo by Riziero Vertolli/Metroland
By Nathan Howes, Oakville Beaver

The year 2013 nearly saw one of Oakville’s most heavily relied on charitable organizations close its doors because of an accumulating deficit.

In July of that year, Kerr Street Mission (KSM) was on the verge of shutting down within three months as it faced a $110,000 shortfall.

The debt quickly rose due to the costs of running KSM’s Dream Centre at 485 Kerr St., and its programs, which include a food bank, after-school and pre-natal education and support programs, a summer camp for youths and more.

The financial burden shrunk, however, not long after word got out of the charity’s predicament and the money began pouring in.

Then another problem arose.

The construction of KSM’s new facility, while it has helped increase the capacity to provide programs, created debt from its mortgage, forcing the charity to carry a loan at a six per cent interest rate — owing $2 million at the start of 2016.

But, KSM remains open to this day and has reduced its mortgage by more than 50 per cent, thanks to the support of the community, whose members stepped up in a significant way.

In 2016, 10 local families donated more than $1 million to reduce KSM’s mortgage debt while many more donors helped the charity cover its operational costs.

An additional $150,000 was donated recently, bringing the total debt paid off so far in 2017 to just below $300,000.

With about $700,000 now outstanding, KSM hopes to have its mortgage paid off by the end of this year.

“It’s amazing the change. It’s beyond what we had expected, which is always a pleasant surprise,” said Gary O’Neill, KSM executive director, on KSM’s turnaround with the support of the community.

“Sixty-five per cent of our mortgage has been paid in less than a year and a half. The generosity and compassion within our community is incredible.”

Although significant progress has been made since 2013 — overcoming the financial challenges that left KSM struggling to keep its doors open – there is still more to be done, O’Neill said.

“We need people across our community to join with us, from small to large donations, as every little bit makes a difference and will allow KSM to ensure the most vulnerable people in our neighbourhood continue to have access to the highest quality programs,” said O’Neill.

The KSM executive director noted the group was able to negotiate financing at a “much better interest rate,” which will position it to eliminate its remaining debt this year.

The goal is to have $500,000 paid off at the end of June and then it will “worry about the other $500,000 after,” O’Neill added.

“Imagine how much we could do and how many people we could help with the $120,000 per year that we have had to spend on interest,” said O’Neill.

Before KSM could tackle the debt, it felt there was a lot of work to do first to improve the “value and impact of services we are providing for the community,” O’Neill said.

“The less we worried about our own finances and the more we worried about doing the right thing, this started taking care of itself, which is amazing,” said O’Neill.

According to KSM, poverty affects one in 10 people in Oakville and KSM “strongly believes” its facility is a hub of care for the community.

This year, there will be more than 75,000 visits through a wide range of programming, including core offerings and 17 community partners operating more than 25 programs weekly.

“We really believe it’s the community’s building. We just happen to be in charge of it. Part of the reason we have credibility is because we’ve lived that way,” said O’Neill.

Through programming and relationship building, KSM is committed to identifying the root causes of poverty and “helping people make transformative change,” O’Neill said.

“We realize we can be a catalyst by bringing people together and, partnering with organizations, we are able to better serve the community and help those in greatest need,” said O’Neill.

At its recent Live on Kerr fundraising event, attended by Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, KSM was called an “essential organization in our community” and it was noted that Oakville is fortunate to have it serving its most vulnerable community members, according to O’Neill.

There will be matching donations for $15,000 or $25,000 contributions to KSM’s debt reduction, if received before the end of the month.

For more information on Kerr Street Mission or to contribute to its debt reduction, visit www.kerrstreet.com or call 905-845-7485.
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Author: Mayor Rob Burton

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