Mar 4, 2020

The Struggles and Successes of a Grassroots Organization

In 2010 Janel Simpson was going through a hard time in her life. She had lost her restaurant business in a declining job market and when it took her over a year to find a job, she realized that the degree she worked so hard to earn, was just a piece of paper.

The situation landed Janel into unimaginable financial hardship. She lost her home and as a single parent with little income, she realized that she needed help.

While on social assistance, Janel was referred to a program where she could volunteer with women experiencing violence, and it was in this capacity that she learned how much she had to offer in giving back to the community. She wanted to help others and create programs that could solve the root causes of issues in the community, before they became prevalent.

” I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless and stand for those who are not so strong”

Driven by the difference she could make in her community, Janel started the Emmanuel Life Management Centre (ELMC), a non-profit organization established to address the increasing challenges youth face. ELMC strives to empower youth to become responsible citizens and leaders in their families and communities.

Janel Simpson, Executive Director of the Emmanuel Life Management Centre, at the opening of the Victoria Park and Sheppard Food Bank. Photo Courtesy of Justin Greaves, Metroland

Janel also understands the importance of having access to food, and truly believes in the vision of food programs. While on social assistance she was referred to the food bank, which she credits as having saved her and her family. The help that the food bank provided her became her motivation to run a food bank out of a Toronto Community Housing complex at Victoria Park and Sheppard which serves around five hundred people per month.

While forming an organization and running a food program is incredibly important and rewarding work, there are challenges that Janel did not anticipate she would face at the beginning, and obstacles that she continues to overcome in order to serve her community.

When Janel decided to create the Emmanuel Life Management Centre, she knew she needed a strong team to execute her vision, space to operate programs, support and partnerships from larger agencies, and grants to fund the programs.

However, like many grassroots organizations, The Emmanuel Life Management Centre struggled with being acknowledged and taken seriously, and still struggles with receiving grants and funding for their programs.

To over come this, Janel looks for volunteers and partners that are passionate about the vision in order to maintain a strong team. By attending community meetings, Janel is constantly seeking to grow her network of community partners and stakeholders as she believes that the support of larger agencies in ongoing fundraising efforts is crucial to maintaining operating funds and having access to community spaces.

Over the past ten years Janel has faced many challenges both in her personal life, and in forming a grassroots organization and food program. However, the trust that the community puts in the program to provide them with resources and services is what keeps her motivated.

“I never anticipated I’d be ‘short of food.’ There are times when there is not enough food for the people and I have to ration every item to ensure the numbers work, and everyone can get something to eat”

When we asked Janel if she had any advice on how to cope with the challenges of working in a food program she said “be passionate and enjoy what you do. Remind yourself that you are in a great place to help others”

Through the ELMC, Janel has been able to help a refugee family settle in Canada, and hundreds of other individuals by providing food for them and their families. However, she provides more than food; she provides happiness, hope for the future, and the opportunity for people to flourish.

Filed under:
Related Posts