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AWARE looks to strengthen its advocacy

Whistler's environmental charity holds its annual general meeting

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Whistler's environmental charity is looking to strengthen its advocacy efforts as the resort works to counter the growing impacts of climate change.

The Association of Whistler Area Residents (AWARE) held its annual general meeting last Thursday, March 8 at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, with close to 30 in attendance.

"We've been working for a long time on getting back to advocacy at AWARE," said executive director Claire Ruddy. "We're looking at how we give a voice to the environment in our community."

Advocacy was a recurring theme of the evening, especially as the Resort Municipality of Whistler gathers input on the direction of its most important planning document, the Official Community Plan (OCP).

"More recently, a lot of communities have moved along in their OCP and are putting more aspirational values into them," said Ruddy. "Now there is an opportunity to build that into Whistler's OCP."

Whistler's OCP is back to the drawing board after the B.C. Supreme Court, in 2013, reversed its provincial approval after it was deemed the then-Liberal government had not adequately consulted with local First Nations. That gives officials a chance to once more tap the community for input on Whistler's "guiding vision," and AWARE is pushing for environmental concerns to be essential priorities throughout.

The OCP is likely to contain a vision statement outlining Whistler's green strategy that will build on elements already included in Whistler2020, the resort's sustainability plan. AWARE members also had the chance to comment on 17 different action items in the draft OCP, feedback that will go back to the RMOW.

"How do we help get ideas going as we move into the current phase with this community vision and where we're going next with the OCP?" Ruddy asked.

AWARE presented its annual financials at Thursday's meeting, showing an organization that has grown significantly in recent years. Revenues topped $217,000 for the year, while expenses totalled $204,437. Compare that to 2012, when the organization's revenues barely hit the $25,000 mark and it counted only a handful of employees. Today, the charity employs three full-time and nine seasonal staff.

"The revenue is starting to creep slightly ahead of expenses, which allows us to build a small contingency fund that helps us with advocacy," explained treasurer Andrew Runciman.

AWARE's programming has expanded as well. Today, the group carries out 20 active community programs and three social enterprises, engaging with roughly 2,300 people over the past year.

Ruddy said the board is looking at different ways to fund its programs beyond grants.

"I think we'll always be grant-dependent on the project side of things, but we're hoping some of our programming and the work we're doing on fee-for-service basis will generate funds to help with our advocacy work," she relayed.

AWARE voted five new people to its board at last week's meeting: Diana Boone, Rowena Diggle, Tanya Kong, Mark Little, and Kim Maitland. Re-elected after their first term were Runciman and Melanie Tardiff.

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