The Raincoast Education Society launched a fundraising campaign this month in an effort to keep its programs, like Field School, running and free for participants after seeing its funding obliterated by the coronavirus pandemic. (Raincoast Education Society photo)

Field School in flux as Raincoast Education Society makes plea for donations in Tofino-Ucluelet

“Our funding model is year to year and this has just been a crazy year.”

The Raincoast Education Society is asking the West Coast for help.

The society saw its funding obliterated by the coronavirus pandemic this year and is scrambling to find ways to continue its programming throughout the West Coast.

“Our funding model is year to year and this has just been a crazy year,” the society’s executive director Mark Maftei told the Westerly News. “This year is our 20th anniversary. It’s not like we haven’t had hard times before and it’s not like we’re not going to have good times again, but in 20 years this is the biggest crunch that we’ve ever faced.”

The society has launched a month-long fundraising drive where every donation that comes in during September will be matched by Long Beach Lodge Resort and two anonymous donors.

“We’re hoping that we can kind of reach out to the community and encourage them to support us in whatever way they can, whether it’s a little bit, whether it’s a lot. If people have attended our programs, care about what we do, now is the time to support it,” he said. “We’re really hoping that we can make a big push and create some opportunities for ourselves as an organization to make some longer term commitments, like to run Field School for the next 12 months. That’s a program that we really want to see continue but, without funding, we just can’t do it…We’re here for the community and we’re asking the community to be here for us.”

The RES runs popular Field School programming in both Tofino and Ucluelet, but the field trips and learning opportunities that program offers are in peril because the program costs roughly $90,000 a year to run and the society doesn’t have enough to cover that cost.

“It’s a free program. We don’t charge the students to participate, we don’t charge the school to participate. We offer it entirely for free, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. We’re hoping that people who care about the program are going to see an opportunity to support it by making a direct donation to help us keep running it,” he said. “Our funding model is just really, really skewed towards community support.”

He said the society’s operating budget is roughly half of what it’s been in previous years and estimated about $150,000 of funding that would normally go directly towards programs, like Field School, has been lost.

“That’s different than losing a grant and then not being able to do the work that we would have done with the grant. This is operating budget that covers our salary, that covers our rent, that just covers the RES staying active,” he said. “We’ve had to lay people off. We’ve had to ask for a break on rent. We’ve had to take advantage of every federal government subsidy program that we can and we’re still coming up short. We want to be able to offer Field School the way we have for the last six years, but we need to pay our instructors and we don’t have enough money in the bank to do that right now.”

He added it’s important to find enough funding to keep Field School experiences free for students to participate in.

“I know that there are lots of kids that participate in that program that come from low income families that don’t have $20 to send their kid on a field trip every month. I don’t want to charge people that can’t afford to participate, I’m hoping that people who can afford to support the program see it’s value and help us deliver it. We’re committed to running as much free programming as we can but we need people to support our ability to do that,” he said.

“Most of our programming we either offer totally for free or at-cost and we’ve always done that because we think it’s way more important to reach as many people as we can, but that model basically means that we’re super dependent on donations that mostly come from local businesses. COVID-19 has made it really, really hard for a lot of local businesses to keep going and so the RES is facing a bit of a financial crunch.”

He noted the society’s largest fundraiser, Lantern Festival, brings in roughly $20,000 each year, but was cancelled due to the pandemic.

“It breaks my heart but in good conscience we can’t do it. At its core it’s an event that is really focused on bringing people together and it’s not the time or the place to be bringing that many people together,” he said.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Tofino Lantern Festival shimmers at summer’s end

“This is unprecedented. We’re a non profit and like every other non profit, at the end of the fiscal year we try to break even. If we somehow get more money than we expected, we put it right back into programs and if we get less money than expected, we cut back on programs. But, we have faced such a huge shortfall in 2020 and we’re looking at such a lean 2021 that it’s really hard for us to figure out how we are going to keep going.”

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