Kelly Greenwell

Capital Families closing its doors

Capital Families Association, a beloved but beleaguered West Shore service provider for parents and children, is closing its doors for good, likely at the end of April.

Kelly Greenwell, executive director for Capital Families, confirmed the 34-year organization doesn’t have the funds to continue and is working to shift existing programs to other West Shore service agencies.

“We’ve lost considerable funding in the last few months,” Greenwell said. “It’s put us in a position where we have to consider winding up programs.”

Over the past fall and winter, Capital Families lost a major grant renewal from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, saw the pool of MCFD funds shrink, and had a three-year funding commitment end for a core gardening and food security program.

The grant renewal in particular was a tough loss. MCFD awarded the grant, which was rescinded after being challenged by other service agencies.

Roberta Mason, president of the Capital Families board, called it a “perfect storm” of cuts, which was exacerbated by the loss of $200,000 due to fraud last year.

“(After losing the grant) what was left was contracts for delivery of services, but no money to fund administration,” Mason said. “The fraud killed us. If we had a buffer of $200,000 we could have rode through this. Without it, we’ve got nothing left in the bank. If the fraud had not happened, we would not be having this problem.”

Capital Families is seeking to transition its REACH childcare centre at Belmont secondary to a different West Shore-based service agency, as well as its parent and tot drop-in programs.

Discussions about transferring programs are ongoing with agencies, such as Pacific Centre Family Services.

“This has been very difficult for us, partly because of the longevity (of Capital Families), but we’ve also given a lot of service to the West Shore,” Greenwell said. “There has been a lot of effort and innovation over the years.”

Over the years, Capital Families has been prolific in the community, running extensive programs for gardening and food security, seniors assistance, parent education and counselling, and parent and children drop-in sessions.

It was a founding member of the West Shore Child, Youth and Family Centre on Wale Road, where it ran the Whale Spirit day care, one of the only non-profit day cares in Greater Victoria designed for children with disabilities. Capital Families had an annual operating budget of about $900,000.

But in recent years the agency struggled. In 2008, it shut down a 15-year program that had volunteers driving seniors to doctors appointments and errands.

Last year it moved from Wale Road to portables behind Ruth King elementary, in part due to budget woes and a lease dispute with the Queen Alexandra Foundation. The Whale Spirit day care shut down with the move.

At the same time, former long-time executive director Prairie Escallier discovered a former employee had allegedly siphoned away $200,000 over two years. In April 2010, Anita Dunkers was charged with fraud over $5,000. Her next court appearance is in April 2011.

“The fraud is still having a ripple effect,” Greenwell said. “Non-profits are already cutting it close to the bone. When you lose $200,000 in two years, there are only so many innovative ways to make that up.”

In January, Capital Families entered into merger talks with Pacific Centre Family Services, but organization reached a point where it had to transfer programs and close, or risk losing them altogether.

“We could have survived, but it’s important not to survive just for the sake of surviving. We’ve got to make sure the money has the biggest impact for the community,” Greenwell said. “Playing catchup and putting our time and energy into survival is not the best situation for a family services organization.”

Capital Families has seven remaining employees who will be laid off in April. It’s unclear what will happen to the portables behind Ruth King, but Greenwell hopes other service groups will use the space for community programing.

“This really is heartbreaking,” Mason offered. “We volunteer our time because we want to do positive things in the community, not to see the end of an organization that has done so much good.”




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