The past year has been a roller coaster ride filled with twists and turns. When Covid-19 came into full force in March 2020, the entire world had to act and adapt, and do so quickly. Despite being thrust into this new reality of social distancing, working and learning remotely, and mandated mask wearing in public areas, ONFE was ready to face these challenges head-on in order to continue our mission of giving every student, from grades K-12, all the opportunities and resources they need to excel. With all hands on deck from our staff, volunteers, donors, and community, we were able to accomplish remarkable things and continue making a difference.
As school closures were being announced, the reality of the ongoing pandemic quickly began to kick in. How would we continue to work with students across the city if we could not go into schools? Would we still receive volunteers who were willing to work with us virtually? How would we continue to offer our programs such as the School Breakfast Program in a way that was effective and safe? Although we had these concerns, we were determined to get the job done.
ONFE’s Volunteers in Education (VIE) program recruits, screens, and trains volunteers who help students in their classrooms. Prior to the school closures, VIE placed 1,259 volunteers in 149 schools. In the past three years we have seen a 24 per cent increase in volunteer retention, with 685 volunteers with in-person and online specialized training. This came in handy when VIE transitioned to virtual tutoring in classrooms in September 2020. OttawaReads also completed their 17th year as a literacy program, giving students the opportunity to read one-on-one with a volunteer; 58 volunteers read with students in 34 schools in the 2019-20 school year.
The School Breakfast Program worked quickly to find ways to continue supporting students while they learned from home. By March 31st, we created School Breakfast Replacement Kits and began delivering them to students across the city. By August 2020, we had delivered 710,436 meals. Classroom Gardens, a very hands-on program that focuses on growing food and lessons on healthy eating and nutrition, reported 59 per cent of participants in the program still did 1-5 harvest activities in a safe way. ONFE was also able to collaborate with 22 partners within the community to continue providing support and education for youth in grades 7-12 in the Substance Abuse Support Program.
JA Ottawa was able to reach 3,060 students in their Economic Success and Personal Finance programs and created eleven student businesses, with 222 student participants. Upon school closures, JA Canada created JA Digital Campus, an online portal that contains self-directed modules for students, alongside teaching tools that can be used by parents and teachers. JA Ottawa now provides classroom workshops supported by virtual mentors and volunteers.
We appreciate all of the financial support we have received throughout the year. In 2019-2020 ONFE was able to invest over $4 million in our programs across the city. Even during these uncertain times, our community rallied to support Ottawa’s children and youth: we saw 45 per cent growth in community fundraising, which made programs like our School Breakfast Replacement Kits possible.
The past year has shown how resilient, supportive, and committed our community is to the cause of helping fuel kids and ignite learning! With 81 per cent of Ottawa schools participating in one or more ONFE programs, we are excited to see what the future holds and are ready to take on the new year by continuing our mission of connecting community resources to help K-12 students succeed.