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St. Catharines firm puts federal funding and its own money back into community

From left, Mark Meldrum, chief executive officer of www.markmeldrum.com, with Gillian’s Place executive director Tanja Loeb and Graeme Dargavel, manager of community development. Meldrum took the federal wage subsidy his company received but didn’t need, matched it and donated to Gillian’s Place and two other Niagara agencies.

When COVID-19 shut down the economy in March, Mark Meldrum had a decision to make.

He didn’t want to lay off any employees. But he was reluctant to accept wage subsidies the federal government offered to protect jobs during the pandemic.

“My accountant said, you may as well take it,” said Meldrum, who owns MarkMeldrum.com.

The St. Catharines-based firm provides online courses for people seeking certification from the CFA Institute, the world’s largest association of chartered financial analysts.

“He said you qualify, you check all the boxes … and if you don’t need it, give it back.”

Things looked grim — when the CFA cancelled its June exams worldwide, suddenly no one had an immediate need for his training.

Then it rescheduled the exams to December, and Meldrum’s sales “rebounded from adequate to the point where we clearly didn’t need the money.”

That presented another choice. He decided to not only donate the federal money — all $29,379.59 of it — to community groups, but to match the donation through own his business.

He is giving $30,000 to Gillian’s Place, the shelter for abused women and children. Meanwhile, Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold and Lincoln County Humane Society will get $15,000 each.

Meldrum said it wasn’t a hard decision to make.

“It’s consistent with the ethos I have … you have to look to businesses to be the change agent,” said the former college and university economics professor.

“In any society, business is the change agent. Don’t look to your elected officials … if you want a better system, you have to look to your businesses to do it…

“Businesses need to be better citizens. It’s not always about the … pure maximization of profit, but it’s the maximization of well-being.”

After leaving the academic world, he started his company about five years ago offering online training on YouTube.

Now, he said, it is the world’s second-largest provider of CFA training with about 30,000 clients mainly in North America, India, Australia and the U.K.

MarkMeldrum.com is based on Martindale Road with 10 employees and plans to hire more if he can find the right candidates.

He hopes more businesses will learn of his donation and follow suit if they received more federal assistance than they required.

Gillian’s Place executive director Tanja Loeb said in a year like this — when social agencies have all been hit hard by the loss of their fundraising events — “we can certainly do a lot” with the money.

Gillian’s Place is largely funded by the province but must raise one-quarter of its operating budget from within the community.

Several fundraisers have been cancelled and its biggest — the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, which raised nearly $140,000 last year — will be held virtually this year.

It has gotten through so far without cutting any services, Loeb said, though some have moved online for now.

“Just being able to provide our essential services in the context of the coronavirus has been really tough,” she said.

“We’ve had to figure out how do we keep people safe physically, emotionally” while helping them put their lives back together after leaving an abusive home.

In March, during the early days of COVID-19 when families were self-isolating at home, Gillian’s Place and other agencies expected to receive more calls than ever from women in distress.

When the opposite happened, and the calls didn’t come in, they were concerned. Since then, “numbers are back up a little bit but they’re still not where they were,” she said.

“Women who were experiencing abuse more than they were before are stuck at home with the people that are isolating them, so they’re not able to call us,” she said.

Plus, she said, for a woman with children stepping away from an abusive home, “a shelter is kind of a scary place in the middle of a pandemic.”

Making it worse, kids were being home-schooled, there was no childcare available, and court services were largely shut down affecting custody procedures and access arrangements.

“We also know that the women who are accessing our services are experiencing even a more violent level of abuse than what we’ve seen in the past,” Loeb said.

“We’ve seen more threats to their lives, more broken bones, physical violence, more choking, strangulation.

“The stressors that are occurring in everybody’s lives are also occurring in the lives of people who are experiencing abuse.”

Last year, Gillian’s Place saw more than 350 women and children at its shelter, while more than 700 people accessed both its housing and legal services.

More than 3,000 calls are received through its crisis line each year.

Gord Howard
Gord Howard is a St. Catharines-based reporter with the Standard. Reach him via email: gord.howard@niagaradailies.com
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