NHCIA's huge social and economic impact on community [The Bancroft Times]

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With summer just around the corner, multiple seasonal programs are about to launch, including several supported in part by the North Hastings Community Integration Association (NHCIA), such as 'Experience Summer Camp', and Dimples Mini Golf. Yet although NHCIA is one of the biggest employers in North Hastings, with more than fifty employees, there are still many people in the area who are unfamiliar with the organization and its activities.

“Our impact on the community is huge!” says Shaloma Hack, NHCIA's Community Connections Facilitator, who rattles off a bevy of NHCIA initiatives, from job experience and training programs to arts based social gatherings.

At its core, the association, which celebrates it's 50th anniversary next year, is a support system for people with developmental disabilities. It provides daily living supports, life planning, community access, dual diagnosis supports, respite services, funding assistance, and resource referral information. But it's so much more than that.

“Very simply put, it's all about connections,” says NHCIA executive director, Aaron Hill. “All people have a right to live and participate equally and safely in their community. Everyone is unique, and support systems should reflect each individual’s unique choices and dreams. With that in mind we provide supports that help build skills and confidence, whether that's job coaching or art initiatives. Then as that skill and confidence is built up, we introduce opportunities for people to challenge themselves in meaningful ways and connect with others over shared interests and activities.”

One of NHCIA's most popular inclusive activities is Kairos Time, which runs on the first and third Tuesday evening of each month. Participants gather to learn a new craft or art based activity --such as jewellery making, dancing, or painting-- and have a chance to socialize and connect over a new shared experience.

“It's very popular!” says Hack, who adds that Kairos Time is all-ages and open to both the general public and individuals receiving support from NHCIA, often referred to as 'self-advocates' because of the strong emphasis on individuality and empowerment. Kairos Time has become increasingly popular with members of the community at large, which Hack is very pleased about because it gives self-advocates an opportunity to expand their social networks, and it gives all participants an opportunity to develop new friendships. Creating spaces where people can connect with each other without barriers or prejudices is central to Kairos Time, and to NHCIA overall.

“We've seen some really beautiful friendships develop,” says Hill, explaining that people are sometimes surprised by just how much they have in common, and that friendships can blossom in unexpected ways over unexpected shared interests. “We all need that,” he adds. “We all need meaningful connections in our lives.”

There's no shortage of meaningful connections where NHCIA is concerned. In fact, it's hard to find a community project around North Hastings that the association isn't involved with in some way. NHCIA frequently partners with local schools for anti-bullying and transition planning, as well as the Town of Bancroft and surrounding municipalities, the local Early Years Centre, the Community Futures Development Corporation, the North Hastings Community Trust, and various other local groups and non-profits to bring exciting opportunities to the community.

“We also have a significant effect on the local economy,” adds Hill, pointing out that ninety per cent of the association's two million dollar budget goes to staff wages, and that NHCIA frequently hires youth, and supports career development and on-going training and education. Many staff members have been with the association for decades, some first hired right out of college. Emma Woodcox, for example, was hired shortly after completing her social service worker diploma, and has since spent 27 years with NHCIA. The association also shops local, frequently hires students, and offers a bursary to post-secondary students pursuing an education in social services who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

“I'm very grateful,” says Hack, who is a living example of successful youth retention. A recent college graduate, Hack was originally hired as an intern and then offered a permanent position. “This is my home town, and this is where I want to be” she says emphatically. “I never expected to find a job here, in my field, that I love.” Hack says that working at NHCIA is hugely rewarding, and she's excited to celebrate all the positive ways that NHCIA contributes to the community during its 50th anniversary celebration next year.

“It's going to be a year of celebration for us,” agrees Hill. He says there are four events currently being planned, but he isn't ready to disclose details yet, except, “it will be a lot of fun for everyone! Stay tuned for details!”

In the meantime, NHCIA invites you to participate in Kairos Time, enjoy some mini putt at Dimples, check out the new North Hastings Bell Choir that is currently being organized, and enrol the youngsters in the Experience Summer Camp program, which still has a couple spots available.

For more information about NHCIA's services, initiatives, partnership and events, and how you can get involved, please visit www.NHCIA.ca






Michelle Annette Tremblay