Calgary

Community raises thousands after Skipping Stone pauses client intake

When Brooke McCallum-Bont found out the Skipping Stone Foundation can't take on new clients, her heart went out to the kids desperate for support.

Foundation said it could take no more clients, citing funding challenges

The Skipping Stone Foundation has acted as a support system and navigator for trans and gender diverse youth across Alberta, but is no longer accepting new clients due to a lack of funding. (torbakhopper/Flickr)

When Brooke McCallum-Bont found out the Skipping Stone Foundation can't take on new clients, her heart went out to the kids desperate for support.

"It was pretty horrifying, to be honest," she said. "Skipping Stone offers a bridge, it's a bit of a, you know, a gap stop to the services that take so long to access to the medical system."

McCallum-Bont has a 14-year-old son – he came out to his family nearly two years ago. When they didn't know where to turn for immediate support, they found Skipping Stone.

"Having a group of people that understand what he's going through and who can help him navigate these things with, you know, some dignity is just amazing," she said. "It has made just such a huge difference in his quality of life and his mood."

And McCallum-Bont says everyone deserves that level of support.

Pausing intake

For three years, the Skipping Stone Foundation has acted as a support system and navigator for trans and gender diverse youth across Alberta.

The non-profit, which was founded in 2016, offers services like peer mentoring, mental health and counselling services, direct access to medical services and referrals to trans-affirming health-care procedures, as well as a variety of events and groups for the LGBTQ2S+ community.

That mandate is continuing, but recently, it's become more difficult.

Currently, nearly 50 per cent of the organisation's budget comes from various government programs. According to co-founder Amelia Newbert, previous grant streams have now been eliminated, and securing other available government funding is far from certain.

So, the foundation decided to pause the intake of new clients in order to preserve the services it already offers.

"We really felt we needed to make a decision," Newbert said. "The last thing we want to do is leave anyone in a bad position ... we're at a point right now where we're able to provide that same calibre ... of exceptional care to our clients. And we didn't want to sacrifice the integrity of that."

After that announcement, the public stepped up. Online, folks commented on Facebook asking Skipping Stone if there was anything they can do to help.

And, on Twitter, LGBTQ activist Mike Morrison jumped in too, with a gofundme campaign he called #SaveSkippingStone.

"Honestly, I tossed and turned a lot that night because it really, really bugged me. And I didn't know what to do," Morrison said. "Often with me and what I do, I can help through social media and I can help generate awareness. And so this campaign allowed me to do both."

In just a day, the online fundraiser pulled in more than $10,000 in donations – and the numbers are still climbing. 

Morrison said it was incredible to watch donations climb, especially during the holidays and Alberta's tough economic times.

"Whether people retweeted it or shared it or donated money, you know, it helped raise awareness of Skipping Stone, which is incredibly important," Morrison said.

Next steps

Newbert said for the foundation, the outpouring of support caught them off-guard.

"We were already working absolutely as hard as we could, but that's just amplified our desire to find a solution and be able to get back to supporting even more clients as soon as we can," Newbert said. "We were overwhelmed with gratitude and with joy. The office was full of tears yesterday. So it was incredible to see."

Now Newbert says Skipping Stone has a meeting next week to decide what the next steps are.

"We are exploring avenues with all three levels of government, with individual donors with corporate donors," she said. "We have amazing partners in the community. We have amazing corporate donors. And we really hope that, that momentum that we're seeing right now continues to build."

The office was full of tears yesterday. So it was incredible to see.- Amelia Newbert, Skipping Stone co-founder

McCallum-Bont watched support for Skipping Stone explode online, and said it was amazing to see. In a way, the flood of donations online was reassuring and offered her a bit of hope.

"We all love our kids, and we all want the best for them," McCallum-Bont said. "It's hard to be raising a transgender child in this political climate and the social climate, where every time they leave the house, you worry about them." 

Transgender or gender-nonconforming youth face barriers their cisgender counterparts don't. 

Roughly two-thirds of transgender youth in Alberta between age 19 and 25 have considered suicide at some point in their life, and almost 40 per cent of trans youth in Prairie provinces have been physically forced to have sex, according to a national survey of transgender youth released in 2017.

With files from Sarah Rieger

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