A successful community clean-up program operated by ASK Wellness Society is in jeopardy of closing if it doesn’t receive financial support this summer.
Temporary funding for the pilot Peer Ambassador Program ends this August.
“ASK is hoping to identify and receive support from corporate and private donors to assist in keeping the program running,” said Keith Girard, tenant support worker with ASK Wellness that operates both Fairhaven and Burdock House supportive housing in Penticton.
Girard is the leader of the ambassador program.
“If we couldn’t find funding and have to remove this program it would affect their mental health. Also, they get paid in grocery gift certificates so that would impact their ability to sustain themselves,” said Girard in a video that ASK Wellness put together on the program.
Residents of Burdock House and Fairhaven who have been part of the clean-up program have a sense of purpose, contribute to the community and clean up areas that would normally be cleaned by city staff. The city supplied the program with $5,00o in November 2021.
Nearly 40 residents have been involved and many have been hearing from an appreciative community when they are out and about cleaning up.
For Teresa Muir, being part of the program has helped her self-esteem and mental health.
“I’d be lost without this program. It feels good to be part of this and I really look forward to it,” she said in the video.
And in nine months, over 6,000 pounds of garbage and 150 sharp needles have been collected in a total of 1,000 hours of work from the participants.
“I’ve heard from participants about the effects the program has had on their mental health,” said Girard, the project’s team leader. “I’ve directly witnessed participants becoming more open and comfortable sharing their struggles and background as they participate in the program.
A new partnership with the city last November saw the Peer Ambassador Program receive $5,000. The expansion of the program, thanks to council’s support, saw participants engage in a large clean-up of an abandoned encampment along the east side of Okanagan Lake.
“The City of Penticton is proud to be able to support ASK Wellness Society and the Peer Ambassador program, which provides an opportunity for individuals to learn new skills, connect to the community and help create a cleaner and safer home for all of us,” said mayor John Vassilaki.
After nine months of hard work, program participants got the chance to start off the month of June by reflecting on the difference they’ve made in the community.
“I like the reception we get while out in the community, people waving, smiling and telling us to keep up the good work,” participant Donald Hamilton said.
The ASK Wellness Society currently operates two supportive housing sites in Penticton, providing vulnerable community members with a place to live at Fairhaven and Burdock House.
“I honestly can’t say for sure that I know what the program will look like if we don’t get funding,” said Lisa Robinson, the program coordinator at Fairhaven.
“We are in the process of developing very strong relationships with community partners, though. It’s crunch time.”