The Richmond County Literacy Network (RCLN) has established credible relations with community stakeholders and service providers and has a track record of spearheading new projects and initiatives over its 19 years in operation.

Over the past few years, several Richmond County service providers met and expressed concern about individuals living in the county who were experiencing great difficulty navigating through the challenges of everyday life. With depopulation and an aging populace, family and community supports were decreasing or being lost altogether, making their challenges much more difficult. All too often, these individuals were experiencing multiple, complex issues that negatively affected their health and well-being.

In 2014, the RCLN was encouraged to take on the cause and acquire funding to hire a community outreach and support worker. Was this under our mandate as a registered, non-profit, charitable organization established to promote, support and deliver literacy and employability programs and services? Probably not, but as a community-minded organization with a holistic approach to literacy, we recognized all too well the need and accepted the challenge.

With the support of multiple funding partners, including the Municipality of the County of Richmond and the Province of Nova Scotia, the Community Outreach and Support Worker (COSW) project was started in October 2014 as a one-year pilot with Jenny Comeau as the project worker. The project implementation budget was approximately $80,000 of which RCLN contributed $10,000 in cash and another $23,750 from in-kind contributions (office space, supplies, administration, supervision and management).

With this budget, the COSW project generated more than $250,000 in benefits to clients and community in this first year while potentially saving the Province of Nova Scotia millions of dollars in the delivery of healthcare programs and services in Richmond County alone. The COSW position established an innovative and responsive service model and proved that it was a vital link to the healthcare system in Richmond County, the goal of the one-year pilot.

Despite the documented pilot project success, sustainable funding through government could not be secured for its continuation. It was suggested that the time was not right for government commitment with the changes being made to the Department of Health and Wellness and the provincial health authorities. It was further suggested that if the literacy network could continue the position for another year, sustainable funding may be forthcoming. So with encouragement from the community, with unanimous support from municipal council (on May 24, 2014), and in recognition of the continued need, the RCLN once again moved forward in good faith. It was clearly stated that the RCLN commitment was only for another year until sustainable funding could be obtained or the position taken over by another entity or level of government.

We owed it to those residents living in Richmond County who needed this support. Again, with multiple funding partners, the COSW project could now continue until November 2016. At this time a further $2,500 cash contribution was made by the RCLN, bringing our total cash contribution to date to be $12,500 plus a total of $40,450 from in-kind contributions, making the RCLN the largest contributor to the project overall.

In December 2015, the RCLN expanded the COSW services to include the Town of Port Hawkesbury and surrounding communities in response to requests from referral agencies and in hopes that this move would better the chances of provincial support by aligning with constituency boundaries. Town council was very appreciative of this provided service and were most willing to approve funding in the amount of $6,000 to allow the project to continue until the end of 2016. In response to this generous contribution, the COSW increased service to town residents from two days/month to one day/week.

Further funding talks with the Municipality of the County of Richmond appeared optimistic. During the RCLN’s presentation to Richmond County Council (the former council) on September 26, 2016, a possible solution to project sustainability was put forward. The RCLN would continue the project for a fee for service with a monthly invoice and project report submitted to the municipality.

Council passed a motion to ask the Municipal Finance Department to investigate paying this monthly fee for service. After the meeting, then-Warden Victor David told the media that council should try to maintain the support worker position.

Despite goodwill, the request could not be approved until a new council would be sworn in and have the opportunity to respond. Positive response for the position was also received at a public forum on October 5, 2016 by those seeking election or re-election. At the Committee of the Whole meeting on December 14, 2016, a motion was presented and unanimously approved to support our request for funding in the amount of approximately $10,000 or 80 per cent of the total cost to the end of March 2017 should the Town of Port Hawkesbury be prepared to cost share the other 20 per cent for a one day/week service.

Subsequently, at the regular meeting of Council on December 22, 2016, during the presentation of the Committee of the Whole report, the motion approved at the December 14, 2016 meeting was unanimously defeated.
With no further assurances of sustainable funding, the project ended as scheduled on December 30, 2016, and the COSW position terminated. Although it was, and continues to be, suggested that the RCLN use money it has in reserves, this money must be maintained to support the daily operation of the organization and the programming that we are mandated to deliver. As a responsible and credible organization, it is our fiduciary duty to do so. It must be noted that the RCLN has seen significant budget deficits and decreases in reserves over the past two years due primarily to the high rental costs for the two program/office locations in Arichat and St. Peter’s, discontinuation of our major fundraiser, diminished core funding from the municipality and contributions to the COSW project.

It has been a privilege for the Richmond County Literacy Network board and staff to have offered this valuable, cost-effective service over the past two years to so many deserving clients from Richmond County, the Town of Port Hawkesbury and surrounding communities. A special thank you goes out to our staff person, Jenny Comeau, whose caring and compassionate nature was key to the project success. In total, 473 individuals or 319 families were assisted with various issues, sometimes multiple and complex. Approximately $715,000 in revenue was secured through various Housing and Efficiency Grants and Caregiver Benefits. This amount could possibly reach over $1,000,000 as there are currently 27 housing grants still in progress with the average housing grant coming in at $11,500 (27 x $11,500 = $310,500). Not only does this amount benefit the clients and community but potentially saves the Province of Nova Scotia millions of dollars in the delivery of health care programs and services in the Strait area.

It is our hope that a similar service may be established through other means in the very near future. Because the RCLN board and staff feels strongly that the position should be continued, the RCLN is willing to work with stakeholders to reinstate a service delivery model that is both sustainable and responsive to the needs of the community.

Board of Directors
Richmond County
Literacy Network