Gala fundraiser to boost Ottawa-based sex offender supports
A gala dinner will help shore up Ottawa’s sex offender support group at a time when the organization’s volunteers are helping a record number of former inmates reintegrate into society.
Last year’s inaugural event netted about $10,000, and Susan Love, program co-ordinator with Circles of Support & Accountability – Ottawa, is hoping the upcoming gala will raise even more at such a critical time.
The organization is facing a $30,000 shortfall for next year.
CoSA – Ottawa volunteers are currently working with 13 core members, as the former offenders are known, up from the eight to 10 members it usually has helped at any one time.
“Certainly, no more victims is our primary objective.”
Susan Love, program co-ordinator, Circles of Support and Accountability – Ottawa
It has been coping with tough financial times after the federal government cut off assistance to circles across the country last March, nearly forcing CoSA to close its doors and turn away offenders who have finished serving their prison sentences and are often released with little to no support.
“This time last year we were … looking at the possibility of closing down,” Love said. “That was a terrible discussion to have.”
It was made all the more painful since it was just after the close of a five-year project examining the effects of CoSA circles in chapters across Canada. The study showed the organization is making a significant difference in keeping members out of trouble after prison, helping them rebuild their lives and ensuring there are no more victims, which is the group’s motto.
“One thing that federal funding did was allow all the sites across Canada, including ours, to improve capacity, our numbers,” said Love. “And now we have more circles than we’ve ever had in our history of 15 years of operation.”
It was hoped Correctional Service Canada would reinstate its funding as a result of the national study, but that didn’t happen.
“There was no difference at all,” said Love, who agreed to have her pay cut rather than see the number of circles in Ottawa scaled back.
She looked to the City of Ottawa, but said last year the municipality wasn’t contributing funds to projects or organizations that weren’t already receiving support.
A sizeable contribution came in last year from United Way Ottawa, to the tune of $50,000 a year for three years, which has helped keep the group going. However, more is needed since it takes an estimated $100,000 a year for the not-for-profit to operate.
Through the stress of last year, funding became a priority and some aspects of the program were placed on the backburner, such as volunteer training, which was held just once last year.
Love plans to return to twice-yearly sessions to boost CoSA’s volunteer ranks. There is a need for 12 to 15 additional volunteers.
It’s their job each week to meet in small groups – or circles – with a core member, ensuring they are transitioning well and connected to the supports they need, such as employment services and housing.
“Four volunteers for each core member is ideal, and we have some circles that only have two just because of attrition,” Love said.
“They’re thin. It just means I have to provide more oversight.”
That represents a juggling act for Love given the fundraising efforts that are required to keep CoSA going.
It’s hoped the gala, which is scheduled for April 21, will again provide a much-needed financial boost and also help raise awareness about the work CoSA does.
Last year, the event, held downtown at the Ottawa Police Association, was sold out with 110 people, and there was a waiting list for tickets. This time around, Love is aiming for 150 people at a larger venue.
More money means helping more former offenders, which helps society as a whole.
“Certainly, no more victims is our primary objective,” Love said.
The gala at the Sala San Marco Banquet Hall, located at 215 Preston St., will be emceed by Ottawa defence lawyer James Foord, and will feature dinner and a live auction, with well-known Ottawa defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon once again serving as the celebrity auctioneer.
Mystery gift box treasures will also be available for purchase during the event, which gets underway with a reception at 6 p.m.
This year’s keynote speaker will be James Scott, a recently retired United Church minister who has served as a leader in restorative justice and incarceration alternatives in Canada for more than three decades.
His talk will be fitting since CoSA “was born out of restorative justice principles,” said Love.
Early in his career, Scott directed the Canadian Coalition against the Death Penalty, and worked to promote healing justice at the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, said Love.
He also founded the collaborative justice program at the Ottawa courthouse.