SIRCH staff and volunteers think outside the box 

By Darren Lum

Published July 17 2018

SIRCH Community Services executive director Gena Robertson and president Barb Fawcett used their annual general meeting on Wednesday June 27 to speak glowingly about the participants partners volunteers and staff who kept programs going by thinking outside the box despite a deficit last year.

This year’s financial outlook got a boost from the $207000 sale of their administrative centre on County Road 21.

SIRCH was left with $79302 after associated costs and fees from the building’s sale.

This year’s total income of $118425 helped pay down the $40365 deficit from 2017 leaving $78060. SIRCH has allocated $40000 of the $78060 for any contingencies that might come up.

Robertson expressed relief about this year’s audit presented by Sukhan Bain an accountant with Porter Hétu International based in Bancroft.

“It feels really really good to be in the position that we’re in right now. It gives you a bit of slack. It feels like you got a little bit of an inheritance to spend some. And thank you to the board for your work. I know that all of you are very very busy people and this is an important endeavour so thank you all – absolutely to the staff. I echo what Donna [Gagnon] said we have a great team and everybody pulls hard and knows what we’re trying to do. It’s not just a job. You don’t just come here and do your job. You come here to make a difference and I think everybody feels that” she said.

Bain’s audit was preceded by his own anecdote of what SIRCH services like the thrift store in Bancroft meant to him when came from India in 2001.

Coming here with very little he remembers how he and his wife were the recipients of the local thrift store’s generosity which helped to furnish their home. He still has the mattress they gave him. He cannot imagine anywhere else he’d rather be after being embraced by the community and its people.

Among the notable highlights from the audit for Robertson was the 4085 hours of service and the $431352 of goods and in-kind services donated by individuals and businesses to help support the services and clients last year.

SIRCH’s pilot training program Ready for Retail allowed participants to receive employable retail and customer service skills. Funded by the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County Development Corporation the program was held over 10 weeks offering in-class and hands-on training at the Thrift Warehouse once a week.

The idea for the program came from local retailers who wanted skilled workers. Thanks was given to Dianne Woodcock. Within two weeks of finishing this program 83 per cent of graduates were employed. As of the AGM all of them except one was employed.

Another program Cook It Up enjoyed its fourth year providing food service skills to participants and a free meal to the public offered Mondays during March and April at Molly’s Bistro Bakery in Minden.

Made possible through funding from City of Kawartha Lakes Social Services there were 482 meals served. All of the participants found employment.

Fawcett was inspired by hearing the graduates of the Ready for Retail and Cook It Up programs at their joint graduation.

“It was so uplifting to attend the joint graduation ceremony for these groups and to hear how each trainee was grateful of the experience and opportunity. Our thanks to Diane McKnight Judith Danforth and Jay McIvor for their work with the aspiring cooks and servers” she said.

SIRCH sponsors the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program and the Community Action Program for Children that serves Haliburton County City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland County. These programs help expectant women and mothers with young children who are living in conditions of risk such as low/fixed income single parenting etc.

From a short video shown to start the meeting these programs assist participants with accessing resources and receive the opportunity to connect and socialize with other mothers who are experiencing similar challenges. The program helped 35 mothers and their 70 children in Haliburton County. Four will be heading back to school this autumn two of which are working toward becoming nurses.

School’s Cool which is a 72-hour school readiness program for children from three to five years old continues this summer in Haliburton and Minden thanks to support from Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

“Each of these programs provide children with the much needed tools for life both now and in the future. Margee is to be commended for her dedication to some of the most vulnerable we serve in the community” Fawcett said.

Last year there were 39 children enrolled in the program. Two years ago the program wasn’t offered.

Food initiatives co-ordinator Jay McIvor leads the Cook It Up effort and Community Kitchen a weekly offering with volunteers to provide the community with a healthy home-cooked meal from September to June.

Fawcett thanked the public for their donations of produce and to local retailers for “low cost ingredients.”

The summer lunch program is running again and is called FlavourFull which sells and serves food to the public and provides food service training to youth. It is offering a diverse menu of foods for breakfast and lunch and is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It operates out of Haliburton Highlands Secondary School until Aug. 17.

Menu items include smoothies coffee tea breakfast sandwiches salads daily hot pots gourmet pizza baked bars and cookies. Last year it employed four people and served 910 lunches. Proceeds support the SIRCH Community Kitchen.

Fawcett also spoke about the annual Apple Sauce Project.

This project which occurs in September encourages the harvest of apples around Haliburton County on public and private lands. The apples are then processed by volunteers to make apple sauce to feed clients for Meals and Wheels and SIRCH. Last year there was a record 818 cups of apple sauce or 1636 servings of fruit.

The project was given provincial exposure last year by being featured on the Ontario Morning show on CBC radio hosted by Wei Chen.

The Thrift Warehouses in Haliburton and Bancroft continue to grow thanks to the efforts of Don Zilstra Mary Ellen Coughlan Jenn Allen and Jenny Miller. It offers household goods at an affordable price while providing a place for people to drop off used items or helps in diverting them from the landfill.

“The warehouses are beacons to the community welcoming and supporting all who come through their doors” Fawcett said.

Her overall message was focused on being inspired and remaining positive.

“Whether we work for or volunteer in some capacity or are in some other type of relationship with SIRCH our executive director Gena inspires us to do our best and be our best. The glass is never half empty it is always half full” she said.

“During those times when things don’t quite work out the way we thought they would Gena always finds the positive and points us away from the negative. She sees the potential in every person and looks for ways to help each one achieve that potential. For 29 years she has steered the ship and I’m personally grateful to know Gena and to be allowed to serve the community alongside her. As we enter our 30th year [offering] supportive initiatives for the residents of the County of Haliburton [we] can look back with pride [at] the many ways we have served this community. It is my hope that SIRCH will be around for another 30 years to encourage support and connect people in communities that thrive and grow together.”