"I had no idea of the level of poverty,” said Barb Bridgeman, the president of RAMP, a group dedicated to ending the misperception of Muskoka affluence.
When Bridgeman was elected to Muskoka Lakes council in 2018, she received a call from District of Muskoka chair John Klink. After the welcoming formalities of the call were behind them, they embarked on a conversation about the level of poverty in Muskoka. It was a wake-up call for Bridgeman, who hadn’t been aware of the extent of poverty. She knew something needed to be done.
In Muskoka, one in five households earn below the poverty line, much higher than the provincial average. The unemployment rate is also higher — at 9.3 per cent in 2020-21 — and the labour participation rate is more than 20 points below the provincial rate.
MPP Graydon Smith, left, and Michael Ankenmann, of the Huntsville CAP Debt Centre, are on hand for a cheque presentation by Lynn DeCaro, of the Muskoka Community Foundation. — Mary Beth Hartill/Metroland
Bridgeman worked with Michaele Robertson and Barry Wansbrough and together they formed Residents Against Muskoka Poverty (RAMP), an organization supporting programs working to lift people out of poverty.
"The whole idea is to spread awareness of poverty within Muskoka and, particularly at the beginning, it was the seasonal residents, because they come and it’s lovely at their place, and relaxing, but they don’t see anything,” said Bridgeman.
Hannah Lin, centre, executive director of YWCA Muskoka, beams as RAMP, in conjunction with Lynn DeCaro, right, of the Muskoka Community Foundation presents her with a cheque. MPP Graydon Smith, left, is touted as a great supporter of RAMP. — Mary Beth Hartill/Metroland
"I can’t tell you how many years we’ve been having conversations about fundraising and people saying, ‘we don’t know how to reach seasonal residents’, ‘we don’t know how to reach the newcomers to the region’,” said Hannah Lin, executive director of YWCA Muskoka. "How do we explain this unique situation that is Muskoka that has these perceptions of affluence and yet some in our community — a growing portion of our community — is really struggling?”
Bridgeman was at a book club meeting recently and was speaking about poverty in Muskoka, which took a friend by surprise. "Poverty in Muskoka?” was the response. "This is someone who’s full time on the lake. Not that she’s not open to hearing about it, but that is the perception. It’s very difficult.”
MPP Graydon Smith joins in the celebration as Nancy West, of YMCA Simcoe Muskoka, was among those receiving of donations from Lynn DeCaro, of the Muskoka Community Foundation in collaboration with RAMP on Nov. 23. — Mary Beth Hartill/Metroland
On Nov. 25, through a partnership with the Muskoka Community Foundation, five cheques of $900 were presented to YMCA Simcoe Muskoka, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Muskoka, Habitat for Humanity Gateway North, the Huntsville CAP Debt Centre, and YWCA Muskoka. A sixth cheque is earmarked for the Eve and Peter Willis Bursary Fund, to support up to three Muskoka high school graduates each year.
"We focused on the programs that will actually give people tools to be able to lift themselves out of poverty,” said Bridgeman.
Starting RAMP in the fall of 2019 wasn’t without challenges. The idea was to have a number of seasonal and permanent residents who could tap into their social networks and champion the cause.
"We thought we could do it softly, and then COVID hit, so they weren’t out with their groups,” said Bridgeman.
Now that social activities are picking up again, it’s anticipated their message will spread.
MPP Graydon Smith joins Sabrina Bain, fundraising community and outreach co-ordinator with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Muskoka, for a cheque presentation by Lynn DeCaro of the Muskoka Community Foundation. — Mary Beth Hartill/Metroland
When RAMP began, the group reached out to the mayors of Muskoka at the time. Bridgeman said they received a "great idea” response from most, but it was Graydon Smith, then the mayor of Bracebridge, who championed the cause.
"It was an honour to be asked to be a RAMP champion,” said Smith, now an MPP. "It was easy for me to come on board and support in whatever little way that I have done.”
MPP Graydon Smith, left, was on hand as RAMP, in collaboration with Lynn DeCaro, right, of the Muskoka Community Foundation, presents a cheque to Christina Hemens, senior development officer for Habitat for Humanity Gateway North in Bracebridge. — Mary Beth Hartill/Metroland
To learn more about RAMP visit rampupmuskoka.ca. To learn more about the Muskoka Community Foundation visit muskokacommunityfoundation.ca.
Mary Beth Hartill – MuskokaRegion.com – Saturday, December 3, 2022
— With files from Sarah Law