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Cook Street Village Activity Centre broadens mandate to keep doors open

Instructor Valerie Chu, front, leads a daytime tai chi class at the Cook Street Activity Centre. The centre is looking at expanding its programs into the evening to attract a younger demographic. - Don Denton/News staff
Instructor Valerie Chu, front, leads a daytime tai chi class at the Cook Street Activity Centre. The centre is looking at expanding its programs into the evening to attract a younger demographic.
— image credit: Don Denton/News staff

Back from the brink, the Cook Street Village Activity Centre is looking for creative ways to keep the doors open.

Since 1978, the centre has catered to seniors, but it is now welcoming anyone 18 years of age of older.

"It's an area that we want to continue growing in," said executive director Crystal Hill. "We're opening in the evenings now. We've got things like zumba, yoga, tai chi, fit camp …  We predominantly want to continue serving seniors during the day, but what we find is they aren't coming out in the evenings. The space is essentially staying empty, so it might as well start to be utilized."

The move to age-inclusivity is also about finding new revenue sources, since the centre's finances are stretched very thin.

For the past five years, revenue shortfalls have been balanced by a few large bequests, which have since run out. Last month, the centre reported the crisis threatened to affect payroll.

"Since that time, we've been lucky to get a couple of donations in," Hill said.

The centre is also exploring ideas such as hiring a chef to cater event facility rentals, and maybe even supply seniors with take-home meals.

Grants are another big part of the strategy, Hill said.

"We're waiting to hear from the Gaming Commission. What comes back to us is really going determine our future."

Hill also applied to the City for an extra $13,440, on top of the $36,660 operating grant it receives annually.

On Thursday, city council denied the one-time additional grant request, along with requests from four other organizations.

"They need to look at it with a long-term plan rather than a short-term Band-Aid," said Coun. Pam Madoff, who represents the Fairfield neighbourhood in which the activity centre is located.

"What seems to be happening now is in order to try to change their service delivery model … they're beginning to offer similar programs to what Fairfield (community centre) does. And does that make sense?"

It's not the only example of struggling organizations the city is hearing from.

Last week, Kathy Stinson of the Cool Aid Society made a plea to council for an additional $25,000 for the Downtown Community Centre.

The debate, said Madoff, "went back and forth on tie votes" before being denied.

"It's not that they don't do great work," she said, but "where is the money going to come from?"

The city is in the midst of reviewing its granting program.

rholmen@vicnews.com

Cook Street Activity Centre: at a glance

Membership: 250, down from previous years

Budget: $200,000

Staff: two full time, plus two part-time contracted

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