Isla and Honour Winkler at the Fresh Flower Fundraiser Saturday to support the work Strive does with young women.

Niagara flower fundraiser a love for ‘heart’ of Strive

Jul 30, 2022

It was a day to sell bouquets of flowers and raise money to help adolescent parents pursue their education.

But for many people who were part of the Fresh Flower Fundraiser in support of Strive Niagara, it was much more than that.

Operations director Michelina Horton has been with Strive for 26 years. She knew she’d be spending her Saturday selling flowers with colleagues, but did not think they would be hearing “thank you” in the context they did all morning.

Former Strive Niagara students came out to show their support — many of whom Horton said she had not seen in years — and share their appreciation for the impact the organization made on their lives.

“Families from the past have come back who said, ‘Maybe I haven’t realized back then what you did for me, but I just want to thank you.’ It was really nice to see that,” said Horton, adding there were lots of tears and hugs.

“It just means a lot.”

For more than 30 years, Strive Niagara has supported young mothers and their families as they work toward graduating from high school. Before heading to the Strive classroom, parents drop their kids off at daycare next door — years ago, the classroom and daycare shared the same space — making it as easy as possible for them to finish their education despite the many barriers they face.

With three locations in Niagara — St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland — its goal is to not only help adolescents, but to provide quality child care for the families they support and to share knowledge to make sure all children meet their developmental milestones.

The non-profit, social service organization also provides support for families when it comes to working on healthy relationship and collaborates with public health and community agencies to provide a rounded approach for the families.

Like it did for many other organizations, the pandemic brought on a number of challenges for Strive, said executive director Tracy Belcastro. When the program made the switch online during lockdowns, some students were unable to continue and stopped attending class.

“You lost that connection,” she said. “But things have picked up and (are) feeling more normal — our new normal — and it’s working out really well.”

This year alone, Strive has 14 students graduating high school — a higher number than pre-pandemic.Belcastro credited students’ success to their “great determination.” She said the support and partnership from both District School Board of Niagara and Niagara Catholic District School Board have been important in ensuring young parents continue their education.

But what has only recently started to pick up after two difficult years is the organization’s fundraising efforts. So when Amy Marconi offered to put together a flower sale through her business Be Fresh Flower Subscription, Belcastro said it was an opportunity to put Strive back out into the community and show people what it has to offer.

Marconi was a participant in the Strive program about 25 years ago as a teenaged mother. She has been through the program, graduated high school and got a job at Strive as a social worker, and understands the impact it has on young families.

The fundraiser was not only in appreciation of the work it does, but a love of the “heart of the organization,” with all proceeds going directly to Strive.

“It’s a pleasure to do so and I can’t say enough about the agency,” said Marconi. “They do the most incredible work supporting teenage parents. It’s phenomenal.”

Melissa Milana, a social worker at the St. Catharines location, said working at Strive is “really special.” Just seeing young students show up is a “huge step,” knowing how difficult it is for all parents to get their kids ready and out the door. Especially when the weather isn’t co-operating or when getting to Strive involves public transportation.

The team makes sure to “welcome them with open arms, every day,” said Milana.

So to see the community come out Saturday and contribute to Strive’s fundraising efforts, which will further help those young parents, is “amazing,” she said.

“There’s been so many people coming to support us. We’re very, very grateful.”

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