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The Winnipeg Foundation: Attacking the root causes of poverty with low-flush toilets

You've spent $3 million on an innovative project that lasted five years from start to finish.

You've achieved next to nothing.

But now the funder wants to know what you've accomplished with the time and money. So what do you do?

That's right. You BLUFF.

Anyone reading about the Centennial Neighbourhood Project in the newspaper (Neighbourhood investment pays dividends, Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 17, 2008) was left thinking "That's nice."

Anyone who knew anything about the Centennial Neighbourhood Project was left sputtering "What the hell?"

It was obvious from the get-go that the reporter knew nothing about the project. (Note to newspaper reporters: Google is your friend.)

He regurgitated what he was fed without realizing what a sorry pack of excuses he was handed.

The Winnipeg Foundation announced the Centennial Neighbourhood Project (CNP from now on) in 2003. The Foundation said it, in concert with the Moffat Family Fund (a donor-advised fund at The Winnipeg Foundation), would spend $500,000 a year to "address the root causes of poverty through a neighbourhood renewal project..."

The focus of CNP would be Dufferin School.

The CNP "is based on the premise that 'education is the ticket out of poverty'," said the Foundation.

"The aim of the Centennial Neighbourhood Project is to demonstrate that with appropriate school and community supports, the prospects of students in one of Winnipeg's least advantaged neighbourhoods can be significantly improved," The Winnipeg Foundation declared.

Are you paying attention? Did you highlight the central theme of the CNP?

Root causes of poverty.
Dufferin School.

Instead we were told the project "helped build the foundations needed for (the neighbourhood's) continued comeback." Huh?

Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation, said the project "made a difference in the neighbourhood."

Rick Lussier, the Foundation's director of community grants, said "There is more of a sense of hope in the neighbourhood now."

Could they be any more lukewarm in their praise for the project?

It took a while, but we finally found the bottom line of the 5 year, $3 million project.

"Literacy levels of grade one to six students at Dufferin School have improved substantially, with the majority at or above the literacy level for their grade."

That sounds pretty good. Why didn't the Foundation trumpet this success?

Was it because someone would then ask "improved from what?"

What was the level of literacy at Dufferin School five years ago? How substantial was the improvement?

You've now got the kids at Dufferin School reading at the level they're supposed to be at.

Is this an indictment of the school board for failing the students all those years? What element of the CNP can you point to as the springboard for improving literacy? What part did the Dufferin School Literacy Project, started in 1999 by teachers at the school, play?

Nursery teacher Kim Hewlett learned that Starbucks Coffee Shop, based in Seattle, donated money to schools promoting family literacy in inner city neighbourhoods.

Eight Starbucks employees in Winnipeg agreed to volunteer at Dufferin School to read to kindergarten and nursery students. An application for funding was made to Starbucks Seattle. Was the program a go?

The Winnipeg Foundation trotted out a lot of "highlights" of the project for the Winnipeg Free Press. But none of them could reasonably be seen as addressing the basic premise of the project--improving the prospects of students at Dufferin School.

* Creation of a police advisory board.

Double huh. What nonsense is this? A useless police advisory board that has done nothing in its one year of existence helped improve education in Dufferin School?

* Vacant lots have dropped from 30 to 18.

That's because a dozen houses were built with funding from the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative (WHHI), a partnership between the Government of Canada, the Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg. Those homes would have gone there whether the CNP existed or not. Any claim the housing was part of the CNP is bogus.

* 120 homes have been retrofitted for energy efficiency.

So Global Warming is a root cause of poverty in the Centennial ward of Winnipeg? Installing high-efficiency toilets and compact fluorescent light bulbs improved literacy levels of local school children? Who knew?

Maybe they meant that, as the government news release put it:

"It is estimated though that, on average, (can you fit in more weasel words?... ed.) each home will see a reduction in their energy bills of $300 each and every year. It is also estimated that each family will see their water bills reduced by over $200 per year for a total cost savings of over $500 per family."

That works out to an estimated, on average, $1.36 in savings per day. Or maybe 25 cents per person per household.

And that's assuming they got the retrofitting for free. If they were forced to sign up for Manitoba Hydro's Power Smart programs, they'll be using their "savings" to pay Hydro for all that efficiency.

There's nothing like putting poor people deeper in debt to address the root causes of poverty, eh.

So what was $3 million spent on?

- Two groups of local residents have been trained as teacher assistants.

- An Aboriginal Head Start early childhood development program was established.

- An Aboriginal Elder was put on staff at Dufferin School.

Is his salary paid by CNP? Did CNP pay for training the TA's? Is it picking up the tab for the head start program?

The Winnipeg Foundation doesn't say, blurring the alleged achievements of the five year project.

They tried to take credit for the projects of others (housing); they lauded useless programs that had no relevance to their goal (low-flush toilets/improved literacy, what's your beef?); and they've dodged the central questions: did the project significantly improve the prospects of students attending Dufferin School? Yes/how? No/why?

And why should you care?

Because the director of the Centennial Neighbourhood Project was Tom Simms, one of the activists behind the Winnipeg Citizen's Coalition, the hard-left, union dominated group that wants to take control of city council in the next civic election.

Simms was nominated to be co-chair of the WCC but declined at their inaugural meeting in June.

The CNP is a perfect model of the WCC's plans for Winnipeg.

That's why you should care.

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