SIRCH impact reverberates through community
By Jenn Watt
Gena Robertson could name any of the dozens of programs launched in Haliburton County as the highlights of three decades of SIRCH Community Services. She could hold up the millions of dollars invested in the local economy in that time. But what she said makes her most proud on SIRCH’s 30th anniversary is the ripple effects the organization has created.
“I meet people who had a parent support worker 30 years ago and it changed their life. I meet people whose kids went to School’s Cool and are now in college and they remember School’s Cool. Those kinds of things,” said the executive director in an interview last week. “... you want to make a difference and a positive difference and show people, or help people realize how the skills that they do have, and the potential that they have … is important. I would say for me it’s more about that than it is about a particular program.”
SIRCH, founded in 1989, has launched and fostered so many initiatives that it’s likely no two people see the charity the same way. It started with the Social Action Committee, formed locally to help fill service gaps at a time when there were very few organizations available to do so. The committee started with Parent Support Services, which Robertson led on a five-year contract.
Since then, the organization has adapted to meet the needs of county residents, starting a women’s shelter, counselling services, hospice care, programming for pregnant women and new moms and parents with young children, food initiatives, school readiness sessions, awareness campaigns, skills training programs, and social enterprises.
Some programs are still under the SIRCH banner, others have been divested or have transformed with new organizations at the helm.
Today, SIRCH runs Family Roots genealogy program, Community Action Program for Children, Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, School’s Cool, Community Kitchen, Lunch Is On Us, Cook It Up training, Ready For Retail, Thrift Warehouse (in Haliburton and Bancroft), Repair Cafe and Catering For A Cause.
Much of the work done addresses community economic development and poverty reduction, from improving the lives of children and preparing nutritious food to workforce training and providing goods at low costs through the Thrift Warehouse and Repair Cafe.
Thrift Warehouse and Catering For A Cause are both social enterprises, meaning they offer something to the consumer, while also generating money for the charity.
“The nice thing about both Thrift Warehouse and Catering For A Cause, is it’s not just a social enterprise to raise money, it also provides training and opportunities for employment, which goes back into the social determinants of health and how you do poverty reduction in a responsible way,” Robertson said. “We don’t just want to feed people, we want to give them skills and confidence and opportunities to give back to their community however they can.”
Barbara Fawcett said she decided to join the board almost nine years ago because it allowed her to help the community.
“I looked at the volunteers with SIRCH and how dedicated they were and how the organization looked to fill in the gaps. … SIRCH has always been that group that has looked outside of the box and said maybe we could help here or there,” said Fawcett, who has been president of the board for seven years.
Fawcett said she’s seen first-hand the benefit the work skills training has played.
“I know a person who has been through several of our programs and who had been living on Ontario Works, or what we used to call welfare, who has basically a full-time job now. And that’s a direct result of the training that we’ve provided in … both the Cook It Up as well as the Ready For Retail [programs] and [she] found her niche in retail,” she said.
“I think we touch hundreds, but probably more like thousands every year, but even if there’s only one good-news story out of the organization, then we’ve done what we’re here to do, which is to provide for the needs of the community,” she said.
To mark their 30th anniversary, SIRCH is having an informal celebration at the Community Room, part of the Haliburton Community Funeral Home, 13523 Highway 118, outside of Haliburton on Thursday, Oct. 17 from 4 to 8 p.m., presentations at 6 p.m. Mike Jaycock will be master of ceremonies. Anyone involved with the organization either as a participant, client, volunteer, staff member or supporter is welcome to attend. Find more details at www.sirch.on.ca/anniversary or call 705-457-1742.