On Friday, MPP Norman Miller met with representatives from the Georgian Bay Biosphere (GBB) to hear how the $56,400 Resilient Communities Fund grant awarded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) in late 2020 to create new approaches to working during COVID-19. GBB used the grant for a year-long project Adapting Together, and to help ensure GBB continued delivering services through the pandemic by moving much of its face-to-face activities online.

“I am thrilled that our government, through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, has invested in the Georgian Bay Biosphere, allowing them to continue to work effectively through the pandemic,” said Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP, Norman Miller. “This funding helped the GBB adapt and deliver programming in new ways, providing much-needed support as they continue the important work of educating and connecting with our community.”

The Resilient Communities Fund grant program was designed to help non-profit groups recover and rebuild from the impact of COVID-19. GBB used the grant to upgrade technology allowing employees to work remotely and effectively. The grant also helped equip its new office on William Street with video conferencing technology (including cameras, headsets, and flat screen for meetings). Over the last year, GBB held Zoom training sessions and hosted webinars and dedicated online workshops for Indigenous youth, including sewing, beading, fish skin tanning, and a five-part cooking series.

“Instead of holding workshops in person, we moved many of our activities online and were surprised at how many people participated. It actually helped us reach a whole new audience,” said Delaina Arnold, Education Programs Manager, Georgian Bay Biosphere.

“Our communities face existing inequalities that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Kyla Zhowshkawabunokwe Judge, Indigenous Youth Programs Manager and coordinator of Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth (GBAY). “The youth we are trying to reach face multiple barriers such as lack of transportation, technology, or support to connect with their culture. So GBAY creates peer-to-peer programs that are as inclusive and as accessible as possible— an act of decolonization that we want others to follow.” GBAY has been able to reach hundreds of youth within the Georgian Bay Biosphere and across Turtle Island, including youth from Six Nations in Ontario to some in Alaska.”

In the past year, 19 webinars were done, reaching over 2,100 viewers – either participating live or watching it later on GBB’s YouTube channel. More webinars are scheduled this fall on cultural knowledge, forest fires, and electric vehicles. Most popular this year have been “Living Alongside Zhiishiigweg, the Massasauga Rattlesnake: and “LDD Moth & Emerald Ash Borer: Understanding Local Forest Pests.” And when COVID-19 first emerged, Indigenous Youth Assistant Dawson Bloor, was the first to move his Anishinaabemowin teachings online and over 30,000 people enjoyed his ‘Mowin Mondays’ language series.

“Our work is highly collaborative and only possible by partnering with other organizations and Councils,” said Greg Mason, General Manager. “Our team is very experienced and skilled at building networks and coordinating programs, but the new virtual reality certainly challenged the traditional way that this could be done.”

Professional development was a key component of the grant, making sure staff could adapt to new online work and networking conditions. To date, GBB and its community partners have received group facilitation training, hosting online meetings and workshops, and creating safe online spaces for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) staff and partners.

“We are extremely proud of GBB’s resiliency,” stated Ron Chase, Volunteer Chair. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have grown our budget, our staff, the number of partners that we work with, and our impact in the region. OTF helped make this possible by giving us the opportunity to learn virtual facilitation techniques, implement new technologies, and develop new procedures to shift the way things are done so we can continue to thrive even through a pandemic.”

“The pandemic has been unpredictable for everyone, and as health protocols keep changing, smoothly transitioning from working virtually at home and then back in the office and being adaptive is key,” said Becky Pollock, Executive Director, GBB. “As we move forward, the Resilience Fund has given us the tools to make our work safe and effective. We continue to evaluate, adapt, document and share lessons learned throughout.”

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. Last year, nearly $112M was invested into 1,384 community projects and partnerships to build healthy and vibrant communities and strengthen the impact of Ontario’s non-profit sector. In 2020/21, OTF supported Ontario’s economic recovery by helping non-profit organizations rebuild and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Visit otf.ca to learn more. To learn more about this project, email us.