SUNDRE – The municipal council recently heard that a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance for families of children with special medical needs is experiencing a roughly annual 30 per cent average rise in applications.
Run entirely by volunteers without a permanent office space, the Hope 4 MVC Kids Society is also observing a major milestone of service to families throughout Mountain View County.
“We’re super excited to be celebrating our 10th year,” Lisa Nicholson, founder, said on Sept. 5 during a presentation to council at the first regular meeting following the summer break.
“It hasn’t always been easy; we didn’t know what we were getting into when we created this organization,” said Nicholson, whose husband Rich is a volunteer director.
The initiative was initially inspired by a fundraising effort Nicholson had organized for their chronically ill daughter Hope – hence the society’s name – to offset the cost of a therapy pool. At the time, the community in Carstairs rallied to raise $15,000 toward the $20,000 cost, she said, adding that lived experience was an eye opener.
“We really knew that there was a gap for services for families raising children in medical need,” she said.
Prior to providing council with some information about each of the society’s six available programs, Nicholson wanted to emphasize that the society’s services are available to all families not only throughout the county but also all of the towns and villages.
“We don’t want a family who needs our help to not know that we exist,” she said.
The first program is among the most commonly applied for and offers families financial assistance to cover expenses such as parking, fuel, food and babysitting to provide care for siblings.
“We have assisted families pay their rent or mortgage and utility bills, just to be able to keep everything going while their child is sick,” she said. “We don’t see too many of those, but we have had that happen.”
The society will through another of its programs cover up to $10,000 the cost of customized medical equipment not covered by other sources, she said.
A program that since the pandemic has experienced an increase in applications pertains to providing counselling or mental health support, she said.
“Alberta Health Services can be great, but they have wait lists,” she said. “We also live in a rural community, and if you’re trying to go to Calgary and you’re waiting for a mental health appointment for your child and you’re told it’s going to be 18 months yet your child is suicidal, that really isn’t acceptable.”
The society will also step in to help cover the cost of alternative therapies that aren’t covered by health insurance, such as music or horse therapy, she said, later adding the society’s work is done as per the recommendations of a family’s medical doctor or team of physician specialists.
“We are not doctors on our board; we are guided by all of the medical professionals,” she said.
Addressing what she described as a frequently asked question, Nicholson said the society does not directly distribute cash into the hands or bank accounts of families in the name of transparency and being able to show the public how their funds flow.
To date, about $200,000 has been disbursed, representing more than 85 applications, she said, adding applications from Sundre and the surrounding area amounted to about $12,800 of that total.
According to information outlined in her report, which was included in council’s agenda for background and is available in full on the municipal website, the society has been experiencing an annual average increase in applications of about 30 per cent.
To meet that growing demand, Nicholson said they are anticipating the need to raise about $140,000 next year plus an additional $182,000 in 2024-25. This year’s goal is $108,000, and Nicholson seemed optimistic about reaching it.
“For the first time in a long time, the last couple of years – financially – we’ve seen some real great support. And so we do have money to give to applicants, which is really nice,” she said.
“It’s growing way more than a small charity.”
Nicholson also invited members of council to consider coming out to support the society’s 10th anniversary fundraiser called A Decade of Hope, which takes place east of Olds on Nov. 25 at Willow Lane Barn, which donated the venue.
Council praised the society’s efforts and thanked Nicholson for the update before passing a motion accepting her presentation as information.