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The largest fund raising campaign in Gravenhurst’s history was undertaken by The Rotary Club of Gravenhurst when the General Membership of the Club agreed to approve the development of the Rotary Bursary Endowment Fund in June of 2009.

Many people from outside the community believe the residents of Gravenhurst have a higher income, a perception which is based on the media coverage of sales of waterfront properties.  The fact is, the Gravenhurst area is one of the lowest income areas in Ontario and a statistic from the 1990’s showed that following the loss of the Muskoka Centre, Rubberset and Oliver McLeod,  the number of those on seasonal employment was one of the highest in the province. This has not changed!   According to 2021 provincial statistics the average family income in Gravenhurst is under $59,000. per year. This affects expectations of  and students.

There is a ‘Theory of Expectation’ that we all incorporate in our lives to some degree. For example, if you expect your children to go to university they probably will.  However,  if you came from a family that does not expect you to have a post secondary education, you probably won’t have one!  There is also a ‘Theory of Perceived Opportunity’. If you perceive there is an opportunity for you, whether you are a thief,  a child in school, or a parent in a lower income family, ’opportunity’ or a lack of ‘opportunity’ will make a significant difference in the choices you make. The Rotary Club wanted to change the expectations of families and the perceptions of children by creating an opportunity for a better education.

The local service club wants every parent to know that our community cares and that there is opportunity for their children to go to university or college and realize their full academic potential. They want every child to know, as early as  Kindergarten, that there will be an opportunity for him or her to go further and that their family and their community expects them to be the best they can be.

The cost of a year of study at College or University varies from $6,000.00 to $20,000.00 in Ontario depending upon the course of study, the cost of books, food and accommodation – a challenge for many families and students.

In 2009 the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst  initiated the process of offering opportunity by creating the ‘Rotary Bursary Endowment Fund’  and making an initial donation of $25,000.00, with a promise of an additional $5,000.00 in each of the next 5 years. The Rotary club has also undertaken to act as a catalyst in the development of this educational Endowment Fund.

Service Clubs have helped to change the social structure of our community, and in the past it has. The Rotary Club was instrumental in the building of the Seniors Centre which changed the social structure of our adult community.  Rotary’s formation of the Probis Club has changed the nature and interaction of our retired community and now they want to change the future of children in this community by offering hope to families and their children for a better education.

Statistics showing the low ratio of children graduating from our schools compared to the initial enrolment in Kindergarden is not a reflection of the school system.  It is a reflection of the social structure of our community. The parents of many low income families in our Town often do not encourage their children to obtain an education and that is due, in part, to the inability of the parents to provide an opportunity for one child (let alone two or three) to go beyond high school. It becomes a cycle, a cycle created by economic conditions, which affects attitudes and for children it affects their educational future.

The members of the Rotary Club want to change expectations…by changing perceptions and creating opportunities.”

Of the 75 students that will graduate from Gravenhurst High School this year, between 20 and 25 will require help that their families are not able to provide.  The Rotary Club would like to provide a significant boost to each person wanting to improve their education by having a local fund to provide $4,000.00 or $5,000.00 to each needy person with a dream of a better life.  That would be a significant incentive. It should be noted that an endowment fund only distributes the interest on its investments.  The Rotary Club has not set a fixed goal but if the Rotary Bursary Endowment Fund wants to help 20 children and if the funds are invested and yield only 5% or 6% there is a significant amount of money needed!

By December 31st 2021, the Bursary Fund had grown to over $2,200,000.00 due to the generous donations of many members of the community.  A donation was received from the Mary Christina Hendry Foundation of Scotland for $17,000.00.  Terrence Haight left over $1,000,000.00 to the Town of Gravenhurst and the Town Council directed $100,000.00 to this Bursary Fund.  One generous couple donated $200,000.00 anonymously for the purpose of matching donors contributions and hoping this would encourage the funds development.   The estate of Isabel Heels left a sizable portion of her estate to the Rotary Club and $25,000.00 was used for a Memorial Bursary established in her name.  Another local lady, Phyllis Williams and Fred and Audrey Brown donated shares of a company to the Rotary Bursary Endowment Fund creating a substantial Family Bursary Plan.    In 2021 Patricia Forth bequeathed $50,000.00 from her estate to the Rotary Club and there is a “Stand-Alone” bursary established in her name.  Families or individuals who made donations of over $25,000.00 have there own ‘Stand-Alone’ family bursary given in their name to a needy student and a story of the individual or the family will be attached every year,  forever.  ( You can read their personal stories under Bursaries Available )

The Rotary Club will be asking those of you in our community – cottagers and residents, who by good planning, good business, good fortune, inheritance, or lottery and who are financially able to help change the perceptions, the expectations, and the opportunity of a family and a child in our community, to establish your own Family Bursary within our Endowment Fund.  You will feel good and it will benefit a Gravenhurst child, in your name, forever!

The Rotary Bursary Endowment Fund knows ‘it takes a community to raise a child’ and we need more people in our community who share our vision and who are capable….to join us in this journey.

Kenneth Little, Chairman