For all of its expensive real estate and reputation for luxury, Whistler is not as wealthy as some people outside the community may believe. Look close enough and you can find poverty, homelessness, hunger, substance abuse, domestic violence, and people everywhere who are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. There are people who need emergency assistance, who lose their homes, who suffer personal tragedies and need the community’s help for a week, month or year to get back on their feet.
For more than 12 years Janet McDonald has been on the front lines with the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS), most recently as the executive director. In her tenure she has helped to bring in new community service programs, like the Re-Use-It Centre, KidSport, Welcome Week, the Greenhouse Program, and others, leaving the WCSS in a stronger position to help the community than before. Initiatives she has helped with that are in the process of being launched include a Re-Use-It Centre for building supplies that will open in 2008, and an expanded commercial greenhouse program that will raise more funding for community services.
In December, McDonald will leave Whistler for Victoria to be closer to her extended family, handing the reigns of the organization to youth worker Greg McDonnell.
Pique Newsmagazine caught up with McDonald to talk about her experiences in Whistler, the needs of the community, and the future needs of the WCSS.
Pique: The Whistler Community Services Society now has more than 20 active programs, many of them targetted to low-income families and individuals. At the same time, people outside of the community tend to think of Whistler as a wealthy town. What is your experience with poverty, financial hardship in Whistler?
Janet McDonald: It always amazes me that even people living here don’t get that we have people living near and below the poverty line. When you consider that the major industry in town is the service industry, which is notoriously low paying, coupled with a higher than average cost of living, it only makes sense that people struggle. Because of that factor, even people who are making it don’t have that nest egg or emergency cushion that they can engage when something goes awry and they can’t work. That’s where any of us can get into trouble. The seasonal nature of much of the work adds that extra challenge to the formula. It’s not an easy place to live for sure.
Pique: Who is a typical customer of the WCSS, and what kinds of needs are out there?