SUDBURY -- Nearly $1 million from the federal government has been provided to the Nickel Belt riding to help youth find jobs this summer.

Through the Canada Summer Jobs program, about $850,000 has been earmarked for the riding, providing 216 youth with employment opportunities at 75 businesses.

"That government funding that we received, not just in the summer grant but other government funding that was available to us, made a huge difference to the economic viability of our business and carrying it over until we're back up and running," said Laurel Scott, co-owner of Foothills Farm, one of the beneficiaries of the grant.

Located in Chelmsford, Foothills Farm offers a variety of equestrian services including boarding, riding and lessons.

"There's not a lot of profit in this industry and we rely on students so heavily to keep the business running the way you would want it to run," said Scott.

On Wednesday, Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré stopped by for a tour of the facility, which hired three students this summer through the funding.

"We have an organization here that supports students, that supports the local economy and it also supports the community and that's very important," said Serré.

Eligibility rules changed

He said eligibility for the program changed this year, broadening the qualifications to reach more people. Some amendments include allowing employers to hire up until February of 2021 and changing the age qualifications.

"Also the age from 15 to 30, so you don't have to be a student returning in September, because a lot of students or individuals or youth want to gain some experience," said Serré. "So if they've graduated already, they want to still be working and getting some experience."

While this isn't the first time the business has relied on the program, it was especially key this year. The business owners were forced to rebuild its 43-year-old arena beginning last winter.

The construction of the arena, which allows riders to train and practise indoors throughout the winter months, had already forced Foothills Farm to limited operations prior to the pandemic.

"We were looking at the light at the end of the tunnel," recalled Scott. "The new arena was almost done. The snow was melting, we were going to be able to get back to our full complement of lessons and riding and then COVID struck."

The arena, which is set to be the largest of its kind in northern Ontario, is expected to be complete ahead of upcoming fall and winter seasons.

Light at the end of the tunnel

"We're probably within two weeks of having a surface that our clients can start riding again in and our coach can start training our horses inside again," said Scott. "So there is light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a long year and a half for us but it could have been way worse."

Laurel and her husband Dave have owned and operated the facility for the last 10 years. They purchased it from the neighbour, who inherited the property from her parents.

Currently, it has 28 clients who board and take equestrian lessons. There are also nine school horses owned by the farm available for lessons for those who don't have their own horses.

Students hired through the funding complete a variety of jobs, including instructors, grooms and summer camp councillors.

"They're all horse crazy," said Scott. "They don't want to go and work at a retail store when they could be working at a facility like this."

Since they were able to hire some extra help, extra attention was put into the cohorts of this year's summer camp.

"To run our summer camp program we had to really minimize the number of campers that we could have per supervisor," said Scott. "So the health unit had set their parameters and we took it a step further and even made our cohorts smaller to really minimize the interaction between groups of students."

To find out more about the facility, visit their website.