Charitable Choices: Ron Rice of Victoria Native Friendship Centre

Victoria Native Friendship Centre is a BC charity that encourages and promotes the well-being of Urban Indigenous People. We spoke with Ron Rice, their Executive Director, to find out more about them.

Victoria Native Friendship Centre

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

The mission of Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) is to encourage and promote the well-being of Urban Indigenous People, by strengthening individuals, families, and communities. The VNFC  provides programs and services in areas of children, early childhood development & childcare, youth services, health & wellness, family services, Elders programming, Cultural & Traditions, employment & education, housing & homelessness. We have a staff of 125 employees and contractors providing direct support or service to just over 8,000 unique individuals annually.

What problem does it aim to solve?

We pride ourselves on finding creative and innovative solutions to challenges and issues facing our people.  A good portion of our work is also highlighting the wealth our people possess in the form of language, culture, family and community.  In addition to providing support to those unemployed or underemployed, with ongoing health concerns or conditions, addictions, child/youth interventions or shelter to the homeless; we also provide community celebrations, lead community-wide dialogues on Reconciliation, we provide quality childcare in our licensed daycare, housing solutions for individuals, couples and families, support individuals to plan and achieve academic goals including Masters degrees and PhDs. The Victoria Native Friendship Centre accepts its role as a community leader as it relates to urban Indigenous communities.

When did you start/join it?

I began working at the provincial office in 1998 and worked there until 2017, working with Centres in difficulty.  I began volunteering with the Victoria Native Friendship Centre board in 2003-2017 as the Board President until I resigned to compete for my current position.  I was hired as Executive Director in 2018.

What made you want to get involved?

My background was in hospitality and tourism and the provincial office was planning a conference in 1998 and I’ve been involved ever since.

What was the situation like when you started?

When I started with VNFC four years ago, we were in a strong position.  We had 72 employees and contractors.  The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action were on top of everyone’s mind.  The Missing & Murdered Indigenous Woman & Girls Commission was underway nationally and we were on the verge of prepaying for our 99-year lease for our main building.

How has it changed since?

Currently, we have over 125 staff and contractors.  Although we have not added any new program categories, we have expanded programming in key areas.  Obviously, the global pandemic has created havoc with not only the way we do our critical and essential work but also put a great deal of pressure on our staff as they try stay connected and respond to new needs, issues and challenges.  What kind of career advice can you give when so many industries are shut down or working at less than optimal capacities?  What kind of academic advice can you give when you don’t know the teaching model from month to month (virtual/distance Ed. does not work for everyone)

What more needs to be done?

We have been doing this for more than 50 years and we want to be strategic in our plans but when you start to think in terms of the last 50 years and the next 50 years we need to think in terms of changing systems not adding or removing programs.  That means we need to be nimble which makes funds like the 2021 TD Ready Challenge program perfect for our work at hand. We are grateful for the grants provided through TD Ready Challenge – they have helped VNFC as well as additional community organizations to implement innovative interventions to help disproportionately impacted students in grades K-12 catch up and minimize future loss.

How can our readers help?

Readers can step forward and decide they are going to get involved as audiences at events, as volunteers to programs or boards, as donors, as allies in Reconciliation and ongoing self-education.

Books and films, education programs, cultural/arts events and programs, discussion groups and relationship building.  Attend AGMs.  Support Indigenous artists and business.  There are many ways to connect and help.

Do you have any events coming up?

We are planning to host our National AGM in July with Friendship Centres from across Canada coming to Victoria (this will be the 4 th time we have planned this event in the last 2.5 years).  We are partnering with several agencies to host June 21 National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Royal Roads University and we are tentatively planning summer camps.  We look forward to restarting our Friday Community Lunch program, perhaps towards the end of the summer.

Where can we follow you?

www.vnfc.ca

You can also follow our Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogue

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

VNFC is a longtime partner of Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services’ Indigenous Back to School Picnics (eight communities around the province) and we support them as they raise in excess of $300,000 – $500,000 each year to support Indigenous children and families as they prepare for September.  When our children go back to school our hearts go with them.