SIRCH praised for life-changing impact over the years
By Jenn Watt
The opportunity to gain a new skill, meet new friends, receive a warm meal or help a neighbour can be life changing. In the 30 years SIRCH has been operating in Haliburton County, its programming has created an environment for personal and community growth, said a steady stream of speakers at celebration event in Haliburton Oct. 17.
Former and current staff members, volunteers and recipients of SIRCH Community Services initiatives took to the microphone to share how the charity has improved their lives and those of their friends, family and fellow community members.
Liz Kerlie, Katie Peddie and Jessahra McIvor all took part in programming for new parents and spoke to the audience about the impact SIRCH has had. Peddie said she looked forward to a time to be with other mothers, sharing laughs and good food. McIvor said the program allowed her kids to meet their future classmates and has provided her with emotional support during the first months of her child’s life.
Kerlie said she was referred to SIRCH’s Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program when she attended prenatal classes offered by the health unit.
“I was a nervous first-time mom and was really, really wary of going,” she said. “I’ve got to admit, that all changed the minute I walked in the door. I was met by a wonderfully kind woman with open arms and caring eyes and that has changed my life. Through the CPNP and CAPC [Community Action Program for Children] programs I have made friends, I have watched great kids grow up and I’ve been introduced to community resources that otherwise never would have been part of my life.”
It was there that she learned about Contact North, which connects people in rural areas to postsecondary education opportunities. Kerlie has since completed one college program and has signed up for another.
SIRCH’s current roster of programs includes those for children and parents as well as Community Kitchen, which prepares free meals for those in need using the power of volunteers, guided by staff. Skills development training is offered through Cook It Up and Ready For Retail, which both prepare participants for readily available jobs in the Haliburton economy. School’s Cool, a kindergarten readiness program, prepares kids for the next chapter in their educational journey, while Family Roots is about connecting volunteers with seniors looking to trace the journeys of ancestors who came before them.
Nancy Baker volunteers for Family Roots, one of many SIRCH programs she’s been involved with over the years. Her first experience with the charity was in 1994 when a friend of hers suggested they take part in the Community Assistance Program, a precursor to what Victims Services offers today.
Following her training, she helped people in the hours following life-altering and potentially traumatic events.
She described sitting in the Haliburton hospital with a person who had attempted suicide while intoxicated, bringing the person coffee and providing encouragement and care in a time of great need.
Baker was involved with a family who were in a car accident, with the mother taken to the hospital in Kingston.
“The team stepped up and provided comfort and shoes for the little girl, supported the husband, found accommodation for the family, contacted other family members to explain the situation and helped them deal with the ordeal they were in. All came to a happy ending and the family was eventually reunited with their mother,” she said.
She went on to become a volunteer with the hospice program and is now working on Family Roots.
Martin Dunn shared with the group the importance of the training programs for those looking to change directions. He recently returned to Canada after many years abroad and was having a hard time fitting his skillset into the local economy.
He joined the Cook It Up training after seeing an ad in the newspaper. He has since found employment, but said the experience is about more than that.
“Getting a job is certainly an immediate impact for me, but it’s been more on personal growth, the opportunity to reflect on my skills, how they are more applicable than I realized and now I will take more chances,” he said. “I’m working in another job, which is not actually related to food service, but
it’s something I probably would never have applied to before.”
Speeches ended with Barbara Fawcett, president of the board of directors, who thanked all of those who have been part of SIRCH’s history. She made sure to praise executive director Gena Robertson, who has been with the charity since the beginning.
“During the past 30 years, this extraordinary visionary has become known as a force to be reckoned with,” she said of Robertson. “She is a brave and tenacious leader who thinks outside of the box, encourages partnerships and is always looking for ways to care for the needs of others.”
Robertson was presented with a framed print by Curve Lake artist David Beaucage Johnson and a bouquet of flowers.