Many Calgarians are stressed about money, survey shows

Calgary Foundation releases Vital Signs report on 20th anniversary of the Neighbor Grants Program

Grants revealed: A sign signifying the 20th anniversary of the Neighbour Grants program on stage at the BMO Centre, during the annual Vital City event on Oct. 26. (Photo by Jesse Heinrichs/The Press)

The Calgary Foundation’s Vital Signs report, released Oct. 24 during the annual Vital City event at the BMO Centre, said that three quarters of Calgarians are currently feeling stress due to personal finances.

About 47 per cent of residents said that they feel their ability to afford basic necessities is average, below average, or poor.

The report said that Calgary and Edmonton have the highest unemployment rates in Canada, at seven per cent.

Alberta’s economy has suffered recently, and Calgarians have felt their median personal income drop from $64,098 in 2018, to $60,789 in 2019.

According to a statistic from Calgary Economic Development cited by the Vital Signs report, Calgary is the only city that has seen a decrease in the average wage. The median wage has gone down nine per cent over five years.

Despite this, Calgary has the largest number of individuals who contribute to a charity in Canada.

The report said that 86 per cent of Calgarians donate financially to charity, and 69 per cent of Calgarians donate their time by volunteering.

“That is evidenced by the fact that Calgary Foundation yet again got considerable new gifts, $65 million in new gifts this last year,” said Eva Friesen, president and CEO of the Calgary Foundation.

“I know money is just one thing people are generous with. People are also generous with their time and their gifts that they give to communities,” said Friesen.

These charitable donations and the contributions from volunteers, have helped the  foundation in keeping its Neighbor Grants program active for 20 years.

Vital City highlighted the 20-year anniversary of the Neighbour Grants program by showcasing projects that succeeded with funding from the Calgary Foundation.

Speaking out: Elizabeth Peters, board chair of the Calgary Foundation, address the crowd in the Palomino Hall of the BMO Centre, during the annual Vital City event on Oct. 26. (Photo by Jesse Heinrichs/The Press)

The Neighbour Grants provides funding for citizen led projects that help make Calgary a more livable city.

One of the projects showcased during the event is the 4th Avenue Public Space Enhancement Project, which has begun to convert the unusable concrete area under the 4th Avenue N.E. flyover, to a lively, community-driven park.

“All of this started with just a few people with no resources or money, but with the belief that we could make something out of nothing,” said Ali McMillan, the planning director at the Bridgeland Community Association.

The project started with a few trips to the Dollar Store, and a $20 ping-pong table from Kijiji.

Even without money, with only the helping hand of a few community members, the 4th Avenue Flyover was able to go through major changes.

“That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I read in the report that Calgary is the fifth most livable city in the world,” said Malcolm Burk, a local artist in Bowness.

“We run a beautiful community garden in Bowness, all thanks to volunteers that come out in support of it,” said Burk.

Burk heads the annual Bowness Community Gardens barbecue in the spring, and brings people together to collaborate and re-paint the Bowness Community Gardens sign.

“By donating your time, or your art to the community, you’re making your community stronger from the roots up,” he said.

Burk isn’t the only one who believes gardening can help bring a community together.

Cesar Suva, director of research and program developer at The Immigrant Education Society (TIES), has started a project called Gardens for Refugees and Other Newcomers Welcomed (GROW).

The project received funding from the Calgary Foundation, through the Neighbour Grants program.

GROW was established bring newly immigrated families together. The participants work together in the garden, and in the kitchen to make food that they can share with one another

“Despite the participants’ differences in terms of culture, language, or religion, in the garden, on the kitchen table there was common ground that is inherent and natural,” said Suva.

Suva’s GROW was the second project to be showcased during Vital City, a project that originally qualified for funding at the RBC Foundation and Calgary Foundation Neighbour Grants Pitch Night.

Vital City attracted more than 500 people for the anniversary of the grants program.

The Vital Signs report used information collected from 2,236 of Calgarians during an online survey distributed by the Calgary Foundation.