As I write this, it’s one day after the Ottawa Athletic Club (OAC) announced that it is closing its doors after 44 years.
OSCA was officially incorporated on October 17th, 1979. The loss of the OAC hit too close to home. I was struck by the number of friends sharing their memories of the OAC and recalled my own visits during high school. We’ve seen other institutions and businesses close in the last few months, while others have held on. But what resonates the most is how unexpected it feels. In many ways we overlook the very real possibility that a deep-rooted and well-established organization can close. But it can.
Now OSCA too is facing difficult decisions. Since the pandemic began and OSCA temporarily closed its doors, we’ve been reinventing ourselves. Like many other not-for-profit community centres, we have entered the realm of virtual programming, and for the most part, we’ve done a good job. With a small team of just five full time staff we’ve accomplished a lot in the last six months: we’ve launched a new registration system; run two free spring and summer virtual sessions with programming options for all ages; published two beautiful colour guides; launched a “pay what you can” campaign to raise funds to pay instructors; ran virtual summer camps; and launched our Fall Virtual Programs. The work did not end there. We said a teary-eyed goodbye to a key member of our team and then set ourselves to the task of planning to reopen the Firehall for September.
We want to support and serve our community. We want to reopen our doors and be with all of you for the long run. We care about your well- being and want to offer a safe harbour in whatever way we can.
As I write this, we are excited and nervous. We are looking forward to opening our doors and welcoming back a small but significant number of After 4 children. Slowly, carefully, and with your and our safety in mind, we will open more of our on-site programming from preschool and children’s programs, yoga and fitness, to the Fitness Centre and Pottery Studio.
It is our hope that with time we’ll become a bustling community centre again, offering community events such as the Porch Sale, Fall Fest, the Christmas Craft Show, Women’s Day, a Winter Carnival, and much more.
For those who answer the call to work, or volunteer, in community recreation, it could be said that we’re drawn to a sense of purpose and belonging. A sense of community. Many of us grew up attending dance, gym, sports, science camps and other programs in centres like the Firehall. Many in recreation get their first job while in high school and continue throughout university. And many more return to participate in programs as adults and continue into their senior years.
Over the years, OSCA has had its fair share of children who attended programs growing up in the neighbourhood and have come back to work as counsellors. Some of them have even met their future spouses here and returned when they had children of their own. There is a circle of community life that OSCA has celebrated, witnessed and shared with members of our community.
And we want to continue. Despite some reservations during this somewhat scary pandemic, each one of us is committed to returning to work. For us, working at the Firehall is more than a job. It’s where we gather to share, play, learn, exercise, dance, help one another, celebrate, laugh and sometimes cry. In many ways, that’s what OSCA means to us and we hope it’s what OSCA means to you.
For the past month the team have met weekly in an empty and somewhat lonely centre. We’ve reviewed protocol and created comprehensive operating procedures. And at every step the Board of Directors and Committees were right there with us. We’ve also applied for grants and are looking at a number of different options for funding. Since our spring and summer sessions were free or “pay what you can,” we raised just enough funds to pay our instructors and to cover minimal administrative costs.
We’ve survived on reserves and the CEWS (Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy) program. When the much-appreciated CEWS comes to an end, we will not have enough resources to continue for more than a few months.
What follows will be a defining period for OSCA. The Communications Committee, staff, the Board of Directors, and engaged volunteers with fundraising experience are in the process of developing a grassroots fundraising campaign. We will have more details in October, so stay tuned. We continue to dream big and we hope you’ll keep supporting us as we face these difficult times together.
Christy's Corner was originally published in the October issue of the OSCAR.