When Veronica Nicholson began as the executive director of the Timmins Native Friendship Centre (TNFC) eight years ago, it had a heavy debt load and nine programs. Today, the Centre is debt-free and growing rapidly, with a new location opening next spring and a three-fold increase in its service offerings, which range from health and education to daycare and self-esteem building. “We say that we’re a one-stop shopping place where you can get the whole circle of life,” said Nicholson. It’s been a decade of strength for the TNFC, which now serves nearly 18,000 people every year from its locations on Spruce Street South and Elm Street South. With a positive attitude and an eye on providing much-needed services, Nicholson and the Centre’s Board of Directors have also worked diligently to expand their range of programs. By 2008, they increased their programs to 22, a significant increase from just four years prior. As that number has continued to grow to its current total of 30 and with the addition of a daycare, staffing levels have also risen, with 39 employees now in place at the TNFC. The centre’s size and scope are a far cry from its humble origins in 1974, when it was first established as a gathering place for tea and talk, and to provide a welcoming environment for First Nations students arriving to Timmins to attend school. As the centre grew, it began to offer various community programs, despite a lack of government funding for much of the first 10 years. The funding challenge has remained an obstacle that the TNFC has continued to overcome year after year, and like many non-profit organizations, it is something the centre still faces today. When it comes to coping with budgetary difficulties, Nicholson notes that “partnership is key,” acknowledging the support of the provincial government to their activities. Even today, the Centre must still raise $22 for every dollar of funding it receives in order to keep its doors open. “That’s the nature of our survival, and if it’s not there you run the risk of a huge debt load, again. You have a responsibility to grow this into that.” With her background in community economic development, Nicholson has focused her energies on helping to resolve those issues while implementing a strategic plan, committing to give the Centre and the community some ownership of their progress. Initially met with resistance and scepticism, the plan has had a tremendous effect on the TNFC’s growth and community involvement. It’s been so effective that the TNFC’s resulting massive growth has led to its acquisition of the former Flora MacDonald Public School, which they are renovating as part of their “Under One Roof” project. Located on Kirby Street, this new location will replace the TNFC’s two current locations. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves due to physical space, because the programs are so valuable to the community.” Due to open in early 2013, the new location will provide the TNFC with an additional 20,000 square feet, allowing its impressive momentum to continue. As a sign of the organization’s ambitions, every space in the new building is already spoken for, said Nicholson. The facility’s gymnasium will double as a 150-person capacity conference centre, and the surrounding 2.5 acres of land will prove integral to filling in any gaps in existing programs and to the creation of new ones. This new facility will help the TNFC to provide its services, which unbeknownst to many, are available to all members of the community, whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. Respect and quality of life is the order of the day at TNFC, as they make it a priority to create a culturally safe environment, regardless of the cultural beliefs of who comes through their doors. In addition to providing social assistance to anyone in need, the TNFC promotes positive Aboriginal images, self-respect and expression through a variety of culturally appropriate program activities. Youth programs are central to the TNFC’s programs, and those programs have a clear focus on knowledge and guidance for healthy decisions. “Our mandate has not changed, it has always remained the same: to provide urban Aboriginal people with options for a good way of life.” This philosophy, along with its dedication to the community, has earned the TNFC considerable recognition from its peers. Most recently, it was honoured at the Chamber’s 2012 Nova Awards as Non-Profit Organization of the Year, following two consecutive awards as the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres’ Model Friendship Centre in 2010 and 2011. “I work at the best place and I still get excited to come to work,” said Nicholson. “We’re sitting in a good place for future growth.” To find out more, The Timmins Native Friendship Centre can be found online here, and their head office is currently located at 316 Spruce Street South. They can be contacted by phone at (705) 268-6262 or by email at [email protected]. Click here to see the full-sized image.