A Guelph, Ont.-based charity has caught the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after it applied for the federal government’s wage subsidy program instead of laying off its full-time employees.
Focus on Nature was singled out by Trudeau on Monday during his daily briefing as one of the 10,000 businesses that applied for the program to help them deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This charity from Guelph would have been forced to lay off all of their staff. But thanks to the wage subsidy, they can now keep their employees on the payroll and keep teaching kids about nature,” Trudeau said.
Focus on Nature helps children connect with the natural world through photography, holding hundreds of workshops every year throughout southern Ontario.
Executive director Simon Bell said beginning last month they were forced to cancel all of their workshops, including events over March Break at the Guelph Arboretum, and their summer camps still remain in limbo.
“I was prepared to lay myself off and our staff because it didn’t seem like there was any point in being hired and we didn’t want to drain what little resources we had,” he said. “But the government announced the wage subsidy and we did some quick calculations and figured we could keep everyone on staff.”
The wage subsidy covers 75 per cent of wages for employers, up to $875 per worker. Trudeau said the money will start flowing by May 7.
Focus on Nature only has four full-time employees as they rely heavily on some part-time workers and volunteers who have already applied for the Canadian Emergency Benefit Fund.
Bell said they are now able to create some simple online lessons for teachers that will launch on May 1 and they are running a nature photography challenges through Instagram with a digital camera as a prize.
During his speech, the prime minister also mentioned that he had received a letter from Focus on Nature last week. Bell said he was compelled to write it to show his appreciation for the work the government is doing.
“I just explained to him that this is allowing us to stay engaged with teachers and keep the program alive so that we will be ready to keep working in classrooms when we get to a new normal,” he said.
Reached by phone on Monday afternoon, Bell told Global News that the response has been overwhelming as his inbox is was filling up with emails from people interested in the program.
“Donations are coming in from who knows where. I haven’t really checked yet,” he said.
“But it’s the first time our program has had a chance to be known from coast to coast to coast and that’s ultimately what we think our program will be, is a national program.”
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