Photo: Denise Aston Devisscher (right) and Jon Rost, Co-Chairs of the Transit Employees Community Fund Committee.
Giving back brings transit employees’ experience full circle.
Transit drivers see firsthand the challenges in our city. Through their new fund at The Winnipeg Foundation, Transit employees are giving back – and the first item on their list is a new outreach van for Main Street Project.
“Unfortunately, as a [driver], you see what’s happening in the community – you can see where the help is required,” says Jon Rost, who has been working as a Transit operator for 21 years.
Transit had been working with Main Street Project to develop additional training for drivers on mental health and addictions, when Rost was motivated to do more. Main Street Project, a charity that supports vulnerable citizens including those experiencing homelessness, was expanding training for Transit employees so they can further understand the complex issues surrounding homelessness and addictions.
“We worked at developing something innovative in terms of training for bus operators,” Rost explains. “I was inspired by what [Main Street Project] was doing and thought, ‘Boy, that would be nice to be able to help in a bigger way than we are capable of as individuals.’ It was during that process where the inspiration, the catalyst, came for me to look at developing a fund (at The Winnipeg Foundation).”
Rost had previous experience with The Foundation and thought Transit employees might like to work together to support Causes on a larger scale.
“I think this was just great timing,” Rost says. “It was not a new idea – it just got to the point [where it was] the time to move ahead. Everybody stepped up right away and got involved,” Rost says.
Rost teamed up with Denise Aston Devisscher, who has worked with Transit for 30 years, to move the initiative forward. A nine-person advisory committee, cochaired by the two, was struck to ensure Transit’s 1,600 employees are represented and engaged. In addition, Brian McLeod, the City of Winnipeg’s Cultural Awareness and Residential School Training Facilitator, sits on the committee as a non-voting community advisor.
“We wanted the committee to be diverse. We wanted to embrace different cultures, different seniorities, different parts of the building as much as possible, to have buy-in and get people to feel engaged,” Rost says.
“When you have such a large organization, I think you have to look at who the employees feel comfortable approaching,” Aston Devisscher adds.
The committee developed the Transit Employees Community Fund as a lasting legacy to Transit employees and their care and concern for our shared community of Winnipeg. A Donor-Advised Fund, it allows the advisory committee to work with Foundation staff to determine where grants will go. Contributions are set up through payroll deduction or may be made directly to The Foundation. Since the initial launch in November, between 10 and 15 per cent of staff are currently contributing. And once the committee is able to demonstrate impact, Rost and Aston Devisscher are confident more people will join.
The engagement and impact are key to success, the two say.
“You engage your employees, not only where they contribute [financially], but through their ideas as well. We’ll be big enough, we’ll have enough financial muscle, that we will be able to support both big and small initiatives,” Rost says.
This impact will also drive home the change.
“The training creates a sense of empathy and understanding. Then the fund provides solutions. So not only do we have a sense of understanding, a sense of empathy, we now feel like we’re part of the solution. Whether it’s buying Main Street Project another van and seeing our name on the side [or something else], it completes the circle,” Rost says.
“If an operator feels good about the giving and the people feel good about receiving because they are going to be in a better situation, than it’s an all-around feel-good thing,” Aston Devisscher adds.
To make a gift, go to wpgfdn.org/transit
Fund: Transit Employees Community Fund
Supports: Programs and projects determined by the committee, working in conjunction with Foundation staff
To learn more about Causes, visit Find your BeCause
This story is featured in the Spring 2020 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.