Renovated Volunteer Bureau office space aimed at creating complementary services and stable revenue stream

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

With the recent announcement of significant renovations done at the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau thanks to government funding, the organization is primed to enter into a new phase of its operations.

The Bureau announced the completed renovations and funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Resilient Communities Fund grant this month. The bureau received $45,000 from the grant, which allowed for renovations to many facets of the former CN train station’s interior, including office spaces, meeting room, main washroom and entryway. Now that these interior spaces are spruced up, Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau board member John Sus said the intent is to use income from renting the offices to keep the building self-sufficient.

“The operational costs of the building are roughly $2,000 a month,” Sus explained.

“That’s your taxes, heat, lights, regular maintenance that has to be done, that kind stuff. When you’re always fundraising you have to use some of your cash donations to do that, so what we wanted to do is get to the point where we could be self-sufficient and just cover the costs.”

Since the Volunteer Bureau is a not-for-profit organization, Sus said the point of renting out the offices isn’t to make large sums of money, but rather to ensure that what cash donations do come into the organization go exactly where they’re intended to: helping those in need.

The four office spaces that are available at the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau will be available for $500 per month, and if the bureau manages to fill each office with a renter, then their monthly ongoing costs will be mostly covered.

“That way we can put 100 percent of any donation straight back into the people,” he said.

“Right now we get tons of good donations for food and clothing ,but there are always things that don’t get donated that you need. In the wintertime it’s always mitts, toques, gloves, scarves, that kind of thing. And all year round it’s underwear, bras, stuff that people wear out that doesn’t tend to get donated. So we end up using money that gets donated and we’ll buy those things, because most people don’t want to have somebody else’s underwear.”

There’s also a hope within the Volunteer Bureau that other service groups or organizations might be interested in renting one of the office spaces, which would in turn bring important services that those in need require right to their doorstep, in a manner of speaking. Sus said that there are many roadblocks that people might not otherwise be aware of that can cause complications for those experiencing homelessness or addictions that having some services at hand can greatly impact.

“We’re hoping to get tenants that are charity minded, people that are more in tune with what we’re doing,” Sus said.

Volunteers and board members of the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau, along with Fort Frances mayor Andrew Hallikas and town councillor Mandi Olson to celebrate the $45,000 grant awarded to the Volunteer Bureau for a host of renovations and improvements by the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Resilient Communities Fund. The funding has allowed the Volunteer Bureau to renovate their existing offices to make available for rent to service groups and other organizations in the community. Board member John Sus said that getting all of their offices rented will allow the bureau to cover all of their ongoing monthly costs of operating. – Ken Kellar photo

“The plan of the board was to have those four offices have counsellors and people that help with all the disconnects that occur in the system, all the little logistical things they don’t have. It’s like, with social services and health services right now, they built the toilet, but they didn’t put toilet paper in.”

By way of example, Sus refers to someone who had been at the Volunteer Bureau in the past few weeks who needed to go to the detox centre. However, since he had no license, then the volunteers tried calling him a cab. They learned no cabs were available. Once he had arrived at the centre, he had lost his health card, and thus would have to pay for required medication out of picket. While the Volunteer Bureau can do their best to help out with situations like that, Sus said that having renters in the offices who could help replace lost identification, or nurses close at hand would just help to ensure things go more smoothly for those in need.

“In my mind, I was thinking two or three groups could share an office, be open a day or two per week,” he said.

“They could decide how to divvy it up, but then the people are right there, so when they need to get an ID or see a nurse or counsellor or whatever, it’s right there. That’s what I was hoping. Not subsidizing, but supporting what we’re already doing.”

To learn more about the office spaces for rent at the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau, contact them at 807-274-9555.