Red Cross program helps Merritt Dance Studio recover from flood impacts

By: Rajnesh Sharma
The young dancers from the Love to Dance Academy were thrilled about their annual dance event last November. Throughout the year, they had practiced very hard with the guidance from Lizette Nel, the dance studio’s head dance instructor. It would be a one-week celebration for parents to come together and rejoice in the entertaining dance performances. 

Instead on November 15, 2021, during the first day of the dance event, the entire community of Merritt began to disperse as panicked families rushed to leave town. An evacuation order had been put out due to the massive flooding.

The ripple effect from the disaster would be felt throughout the entire community, impacting all kinds of businesses including the Love to Dance Academy.

A young girl opening the door to the Love to Dance Academy looking over her shoulder and smilingIn March 2011, the Merritt Dance Society - a not-for profit organization - was founded to support dance programs for kids in Merritt and surrounding areas. It helps provide financial assistance to run the programs offered at the Love to Dance Academy studio in downtown Merritt.
Toni Stewart, president of the Merritt Dance Society, explains Merritt is “a pretty small community” and kids only have a few options for extra-curricular activities. The dance studio provides a place to meet with friends while learning the joy of dance.
Dance is also important because it is an “uplifting activity” that reduces stress, develops cognitive abilities, and teaches dancers life-long skills, adds dance teacher Lizette.
Unfortunately, for three weeks the city forced the Love to Dance Academy studio to shut down after the flooding.
“They had the streets blocked off because they wanted to give access to emergency vehicles if necessary, and the cleanup effort,” says Toni. “We lost three weeks of learning time and teaching time.”
Even when the studio reopened for in-person classes, the effects of the disaster were experienced for months down the road.
The dance academy’s student enrollment decreased by 25 per cent for 2021 the winter session.
Many houses in Merritt were destroyed and became uninhabitable due to the mud, explains Lizette.
“The cleanup was a big thing that took a lot of time and effort from parents,” recalls the dance teacher, adding they were feeling stressed and overwhelmed. “So, they just didn't register kids for the winter session, as they usually would.”
Students travelling from the Spences Bridge area, outside of Merritt, were unable to return because their road was destroyed. Furthermore, several families permanently left town while others still have not returned, “The whole town...really everybody was disrupted,” Lizette explains.
However, despite their business challenges, Toni and Lizette have been determined to increase enrollment and keep running the dance programs for their community.
In August 2022, the Merritt Dance Society applied to the recently launched Canadian Red Cross’ Support to Small Businesses and Not-for-Profits Program. The program provides $5,000 to eligible businesses and not-for-profit organizations that were impacted by the flooding in November 2021.
“We were grateful that the Red Cross had this grant that we could apply for,” says Toni, emphasizing she appreciates that the Red Cross thought of not-for-profit organizations when developing the program.
Within a couple of weeks of applying, the Merritt Dance Society received the financial assistance.
Toni reiterates, “We are incredibly happy and pleased that we have some support from the Red Cross...”
It will help us with the recovery of our business by providing varied programming for kids, she explains.
Small business owners and not-for-profit organizations impacted by flooding in British Columbia can apply to the Small Businesses and Not-for-Profits Program online through Canadian Red Cross until November 30, 2022.

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