By Kate Proctor
Sticking together and helping those in need has always been something that rural communities pride themselves on. Sometimes we feel that we are immune to big city problems and that we deal with things differently out here. But times and our communities have changed since the days of barn raising and quilting bees, when everyone knew everyone else.
I am both excited and little sobered to write about a new United Way (UW) Community Committee that has formed in our area. The first meeting of volunteers on the Northern Huron Community Committee (NHCC) of the UW was held in August and a Kick Off event was held in Wingham on September 17, 2021. I am excited that we now have our own UW group in our community. But I am sobered by the fact that we need one.
While most of us are familiar with the United Way Perth-Huron, who has been supporting the most vulnerable in our region for many years, we haven’t had a community committee in our area before and we may not all be familiar with how the UW works and how it helps people and communities. Two of the most important facts about the UW are that the money raised in our community stays in our community, and that UW tackles emergency issues on the ground, while also seeking to address the root causes of those issues. Unignorable issues in our communities include poverty, homelessness, and mental health.
Ryan Erb, United Way Perth Huron Executive Director, is excited about the new community committee as it means that now all of Huron and Perth regions have enough staff and volunteers to be covered by the UW. The UW has identified homelessness across the region as being one issue of key concern. “People living rough in all our communities is a bit jarring because we haven’t seen it before,” he says. It is easy as we go through the busyness of our own lives to miss the needs of those struggling.
Regardless of how people come to that circumstance, it is important to recognize that people are human beings who should not be discarded. Erb reminded all of us that the work of the UW is about people – people with names and faces, who have come into hard times but may not have a network of family and friends who will help them get back on their feet.
Martin Ritsma, who was formerly the Principal at F.E. Madill in Wingham and his wife, Kathryn, were campaign co-chairs for three years. Ritsma pointed out that the UW isn’t just about gathering money and handing it back out – it is about connecting people and providing community during times when it is most needed. New co-chairs, Rob and Leslie Edney from St. Marys are enthusiastic and keen to come up with new fundraising ideas. He encouraged all to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and reminded us that hope is contagious. “Raise the voices of YIMBY!”, he said, and support the idea of “Yes - In My Back Yard.”
The NHCC has a work plan for the next few months. First, volunteers will identify the key issue to address. The group will raise money towards the Perth-Huron campaign goal of $2,002,061.00.
The official Kick-Off event, was held in Wingham on Friday, September 17. Four local restaurants participated in “Unite for a Bite”, including Castings Public House, The Great China House Resturant, The Blyth Inn, and Subway in Wingham. “Our first campaign Kick-Off event in the Northern Huron area was a great success! Funds were raised that will be put back into our local communities and increased awareness of the United Way’s Northern Community Committee and its plans for the future are both outcomes that will help cement and continue the work of the United Way in Northern Huron,” Lisa Harper, Community Development Manager.
The Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) will be held on February 26, 2022, and will be the main fund raising event for this campaign.
While the NHCC is a new community committee of the UW, the organization has already been actively helping families and individuals in need throughout the area. It has served 5,918 people in the northern Huron area, which includes North Huron, Howick, and Morris-Turnberry: 5,312 people were given access to food, six youth benefitted from housing and support care, 18 people benefitted from the “Poverty to Prosperty” program, 112 seniors and those with mobility challenges connected to the community by transportation, 14 women and their children received shelter after escaping violence, and nine individuals and their families participated in physical/community activities to increase wellness.
Homelessness has become more visible in North Perth. This awareness has sparked a deeper look into what the community needs. At the same time, United Way has been working to develop a community hub where service agencies can work together to better support clients. Hope Links allows people to access multiple services in a supportive and welcoming environment, eat nutritious food and connect socially and emotionally. By creating a community-centred place to connect, Hope Links aims to build a supportive network for participants and help them build a brighter future.
In addition, the Urgent Needs Fund was established and is designed to support local residents in a time of crisis with funds for essentials such as rent, groceries, car repairs, medication and child care. Some 72 residents of North Huron, Howick, and Morris-Turnberry accessed assistance, over 700 people across Perth-Huron were able to receive help through United Way’s Urgent Needs Fund. ◊