Sandy Casselman 
Villager Staff

EMBRUN – The township of Russell will soon be creating a Go Fund Me page to raise money for the municipality’s Jonathan Pitre Park project.

Director of parks and recreation Céline Guitard made the recommendation during the June 21 council meeting, where she also recommended that council approve the fundraising plan for the new accessible park. Local politicians unanimously agreed, and Mayor Pierre Leroux noted that using the online fundraising tool is a first for the township.

“I think this is a good initiative. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see funds coming in from all over the world,” Leroux said, noting the coverage of Pitre’s story. Pitre, who was from Russell, was born with epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and became the spokesperson for the EB charity, DEBRA Canada, where he shared his story with the world. He died April 4, 2018, at the age of 17.

The online campaign will run from July 5 to Sept. 5 with a fundraising goal of $100,000. Guitard confirmed that the Go Fund Me initiative meets Canadian donations legislation and is acceptable for a municipal project.

“Fundraising right now is almost not possible for any community groups. We thought this could work for us, so we decided to try it,” Guitard said, adding that staff is researching other funding options, as well.

Council was in full support of the new initiative. Coun. Jamie Laurin suggested council be involved in the social media promotion of the initiative, while Coun. Mike Tarnowski took it one step further suggesting council members challenge each other to reach specific goals. Coun. Cindy Saucier asked if the system allowed for the possibility of exceeding the $100,000 goal. Guitard confirmed that it does.

The final concept for the Jonathan Pitre Park structures was received on June 14. The cost includes $89,126 for accessible play structures, $18,765 for exercise components, and $143,000 for rubberized surface, which amounts to $250,891 in total.

There will be further expenses with the addition of tennis and basketball courts, paving of the pathway and parking lot, benches, trees, and flowers. Guitard noted that council approved a total amount of roughly $1.5 million in the 2021 budget for the Phase 1 of the Recreation Complex, which includes the Jonathan Pitre Park.

Staff have submitted and continue to submit applications to various grant programs. Russell was successful in their application for a $20,000 grant from New Horizons for Seniors Program, which will be used to purchase exercise equipment. A grant application has been submitted for the Farm Credit Canada AgriSpirit Fund for $15,000 for the purchase of a gazebo, and a response is expected in August. The municipality was unsuccessful in its bid for the $80,000 Canada Healthy Communities grant for play structures in the accessible park; however, a second round of applications for a $40,000 grant is currently open and staff was set to apply by June 25. An answer to this second-round application is expected by Sept. 16.