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Celebrating 10 Years with the Ontario Trillium Foundation

When Sheila Simpson, Program Manager at the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), first learned of a new idea – ReForest London – that would be seeking support from the Foundation, she thought, “This is a really good idea.” But she also described it laughingly as “a bit of a flier.”

As ReForest London was forming eleven years ago, our initial model was to help community groups get more trees planted in their neighbourhoods by providing matching funding and technical support.

This model fit Ontario Trillium Foundation’s granting priorities because, as Sheila says, “ReForest London is not just about planting trees.”

The Ontario Trillium Foundation’s mandate is to support “healthy and vibrant communities.” ReForest London’s goals of empowering people to be directly involved in the planning and the planting of the trees helps build strong communities seemed to fit this mandate well.

Over the past 10 years, the Ontario Trillium Foundation has given ReForest London $567,000 to support numerous initiatives. The Foundation was the very first to support our nascent idea with a grant to the Urban League of London, the organization that started ReForest London.

This first grant in 2005 allowed us to establish as an organization and to plant 1500 trees with 18 different community groups or schools. OTF’s support continued in 2006 to support more projects, and then in 2007, they supported us as we set up a board of directors and sought and received charitable status.

“Early support from Ontario Trillium Foundation was game-changing for us,” said Dean Sheppard, Executive Director at ReForest London. “It gave us capacity to execute on our mission and an all-important opportunity to establish our credibility, which in turn attracted even wider support. It gave us the foundation for success. “

Some of ReForest London most innovative projects have been supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Their larger grants allowed us to think bigger to address challenges in our efforts to reach more people and areas of the city. In 2008, we received funding for a “Neighbourhood Re-Leaf” project to plant trees throughout the Glen Cairn neighbourhood. Working with the Glen Cairn Community Resource Center, we engaged youth to plant trees in neighbourhood yards, schools, and churches to increase the tree cover in the Glen Cairn neighbourhood.

The Million Tree Challenge saw its first significant support through OTF. More recently, the Foundation supported the Neighbourhood Tree Captain program, an initiative to train and support volunteers to promote tree planting in their own neighbourhoods.

Currently, the Foundation is supporting a collaborative 3-year project to engage students in tree planting and care through the School Community Tree Challenge.

Through OTF’s support, over 20,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted and groups and individuals have participated in over 150 projects to make our community healthier. But these numbers do not capture the full impact of the Foundation’s support on ReForest London.

“In addition to being able to deliver strongly on our mission, OTF has helped us build our organizational capacity by assisting with specific needs in specific focus areas,” said Dean. “This focussed investment has been fundamental to becoming a more sustainable organization in the areas of finance, governance, community engagement and becoming a leading environmental organization in London.”

The Ontario Trillium Foundation is the largest grant-maker in Canada. Each year, they invest $110M in community investments to approximately 1,300 Ontario organizations. Four million dollars comes to Oxford-Elgin-Middlesex counties each year. Established in 1983, the Foundation is an arms-length agency of the Government of Ontario. Funding recommendations are made by local volunteer panels.

Their investment strategy has been updated recently to focus on six Action Areas, which includes Green People. Through continued investment in environmental initiatives across the province, the Ontario Trillium Foundation seeks to “catalyze the deliberate action required to change how we use our natural resources and to restore and conserve our ecosystems, so that we – and future generations – continue to enjoy all that a healthy environment offers.”

ReForest London is grateful for the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation over our first 10 years, and look forward to continuing our partnership in growing a healthy and vibrant community.