A new group of Muskoka citizens hoping to bring more attention to the issue of poverty in the region has joined the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce to help spread the message with local businesses.
RAMP Muskoka (Residents Against Muskoka Poverty) became members of the chamber this month, registering as a non-profit member and not a business.
Barb Bridgeman, chair of RAMP Muskoka, said the group formed in the summer of 2019 to share information about the often-unrecognized issue. As part of the chamber, they hope to build relationships with local businesses in Muskoka Lakes.
"We're committed to shining a light on poverty in Muskoka," she said. "The way to do that is to build stronger connections in the community."
For example, Bridgeman said, they want to create and distribute physical materials to local businesses to boost awareness on a grassroots level.
"It can be as simple as them talking to somebody else and saying, 'If you have an interest in this area, let me connect you with RAMP,'" Bridgeman said. "It's one-by-one connections."
Norah Fountain, executive director at the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will do "everything we can to help" RAMP as a new member.
"The overall goal of everything we do is prosperity for all," she said. "In our community, we always help each other."
Many of RAMP's efforts have just begun. Bridgeman said the COVID-19 pandemic had "a massive impact" on RAMP Muskoka's efforts, while also highlighting economic inequalities in Muskoka.
They planned to make much of their work happen through in-person relationship-building with their official citizen partners, referred to as "champions" — average citizens and cottagers of Muskoka invested in the cause of poverty awareness, many involved in various volunteer and fundraising efforts.
The group spent 2020 building their "champions" base, which now consists of 13 people and honorary members including the District of Muskoka chair and five mayors in regional towns.
They've also published a handful of articles around COVID-19's impacts on poverty, including a lack of broadband service access in rural Muskoka as one of many barriers to accessing social assistance, seeking employment or pursuing learning online, all factors in improving a person's socio-economic status.
Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com