Wildfire recovery support program ambassadors Simon Turner (back from left) and Andre Kuerbis, Laurie Rice (front from left), Alex Minshull with Red Cross, Alisha Piccolo, Renata King, Northern Development Director of Business Development, Karen Eden, Community Futures Cariboo Chilcotin executive director, Wendy Coomber, Sue Lachance, emergency response co-ordinator and ambassador Deanne Hoversland (front). Photo submitted

Wildfire recovery support services continue

Community Futures offices in Williams Lake, Quesnel and Ashcroft continue offering support to wildfire-impacted businesses

A wildfire recovery support program for the Cariboo Chilcotin and Thompson Nicola regions is gaining traction, but Community Futures Cariboo Chilcotin manager Karen Eden said she hopes more businesses will access it.

The program’s nine ambassadors are tasked with helping businesses assess the impact of the wildfires on their operations, match their needs to available programs and services, assist with appropriate referrals and application processes and collect information that can help communities better understand the wildfire impacts in order to support new program development.

“We are here trying to help people and while we don’t have all the answers, the ambassadors are all the type of people who are driven to support others,” Eden said.

The Canadian Red Cross confirmed Monday it has approved more than 2,500 cash transfers to eligible small businesses impacted by the 2017 B.C. Wildfires.

“Phase two of the Red Cross small business support program is now underway, and cash transfers have so far been approved to assist another 200 applicants,” Red Cross communications advisor Andrew Hopkins responded in an e-mail Monday.

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The Red Cross continues to encourage small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and those with First Nations cultural livelihoods to apply for additional phase two assistance to support their needs following last summer’s fires, he noted.

Applications are being accepted until April 6, 2018 and can be made online at www.bcfiressmallbusiness.ca, or by calling the small business helpline at 1-855-999-3345.

“A lot of businesses have said they didn’t know about the funding that is available or they aren’t going to apply,” Eden said, noting the ambassadors have reached out to about 200 businesses so far. “The Cariboo has lots of people who are very independent and don’t want to ask for help.”

Ambassadors can provide a coupon code for business owners to access Business BC courses online for free, she added.

Funding for the Community Future program came from the Northern Development Initiative Trust in the amount of $200,000, $140,000 from the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Committee and $56,000 from Community Futures Development Corporation.

Sue Lachance of Williams Lake was hired as the emergency response co-ordinator, while ambassadors for the Williams Lake area are Deanna Hoversland and Uli Wittal.

For 100 Mile House and South Cariboo Alisha Piccolo is the ambassador, and Andre Kuerbis, Angela Bissat and Wendy Coomber are ambassadors for the Ashcroft area with Deb Arnott as the general manager.

In the Quesnel area, Greg Lawrence is the general manager with Simon Turner and Laurie Rice working as ambassadors.

Lachance can be reached by calling 250-302-1502 or e-mailing sue@cfdccariboo.com.

Eden has worked at CFC since 1996 and said the wildfires sped up a lot of things that were already in the works for the region’s economy.

“We were already going to be facing a shortage of employees, but after the wildfires it spiked. We were a community in transition, now there is no doubt.”

On the other side of the coin, she said there has been a sharp increase in the number of new entrepreneurs.

“Perhaps the uncertainty of what traditional employment is going to deliver has made people think sooner to make some changes than they might have,” Eden explained.

“Our demographics are changing too as people move to the region where housing is more affordable. It’s not all gloom and doom, there is hope too.”

Read More: Financial support offered to fire-affected businesses

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