Two grants announced in quick succession just recently have come as a welcome surprise for Houston Link to Learning, says its manager, Marian Ells.
The first one of $26,000 from the provincial gaming program will go a long way towards kitchen renovations in the building it rents from Coast Mountain College while the second one of $65,283 from the provincial rural dividend program will improve its ability to provide computers and training for community use.
“We were worried about what we were going to do in the fall, but now it’s different,” said Ells, adding staff and program cuts had been contemplated.
The gaming grant had first been applied for last year but was then declined, but a phone call came in March from gaming officials saying they still had money available.
Houston Link to Learning had also applied for a rural dividend grant last year and though unsuccessful then, applied again this year, Ells said.
She estimated the kitchen project cost at approximately $65,000 with work to be done by a combination of contractors and volunteers.
Houston Link to Learning is applying to other programs such as the Northern Development Initiative Trust for additional monies and has received the support of the District of Houston for that application.
The current kitchen set up is located in the foyer of the Morice Building now rented from Coast Mountain College but is inadequate for its food program’s full needs, said Ells.
“We do have a stove, a fridge and three cupboards and one sink,” she added in noting that provincial food preparation regulations requires more.
“Our plan is for a commercial kitchen. We need more cupboards, more space for food prep and a third sink for hand-washing,” Ells continued.
A fully-equipped commercial kitchen can also be used by other community groups because it will meet provincial food preparation standards, she noted.
Ells said Houston Link to Learning’s literacy focus fits well with its food programs.
“Many of our programs involve cooking, it’s a great way to have community members come together and to teach literacy skills in an informal way,” she said.
“Food security is a huge issue in Houston and having food available at all programs is important to us. People cannot concentrate on learning when they are hungry.”
The kitchen project will use half of a large space not now currently in use in the Morice Building.
The other half of the space will be occupied by an enlarged computer lab financed by the rural dividend grant.
Computer equipment has already been purchased through previous grants, including one from the Bulkley Valley Foundation and the new grant means the ability to provide training and support for community members using the lab, said Ells.
“Computer literacy is an enormous issue and a real barrier to employment for many. What we will be offering is a computer lab that is open four days a week and possibly two evenings as well, support with the computer lab if needed and life skills groups and workshops,” she said.
Houston Link to Learning computer lab services replaced that which was offered by Coast Mountain College and then closed down when the college left Houston in 2017.
Ells said a number of Houston residents are now applying for jobs connected to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline under construction and need access to computers for online applications and training.
“We’re not going to take the course for them, but we are teaching them how to navigate the online programs,” she said.
“When the college left, aside from the schools, Houston Link to Learning is the only agency to offer this kind of access,” Ells added in noting that while more and more services and requirements are moving online, not everyone owns a computer or has access to high speed internet connections.