Growth and Development in Northern Saskatchewan
23 Sep 2013
POSTED BY: Admin | Comments: 0

In the last 45 years, the disability services sector has seen incredible change, from the types of services offered, to the way individuals are supported.  

For the next six weeks, SARC will be featuring guest bloggers who will share retrospectives on the sector, from staff who offer direct support, to parents, to board members, agency managers, and everything in between.  

We hope you enjoy this blog series on the history of our sector.  As we celebrate all of the positive growth and changes we've seen over the years, we still will perservere to ensure ongoing growth and development stays at the forefront of the sector. 

Growth and Development in Northern Saskatchewan 

by: Darwyn Worsely, Past SARC Board President

In our community of Nipawin, it all began with a vision, several people wanted to start a local agency to serve the “handicapped” people within our area.  After a couple attempts, that vision came a reality, but a name was needed for the new agency, so a contest was held and the name HandiWorks was selected.  The winner won a clock radio which was immediately donated back to HandiWorks.  Many of the people who had advocated for this agency became the original Board members.  This vision and its initial beginnings were all new and exciting. 

At the start, the agency was quite small and self-contained.  Our activity centre started first with crafts and woodworking.  One of the projects was making plastic flowers for weddings.  Two of the original people in these activities are still with us in our programs.   We began with 3 ½ staff members.  About four months later, our first group home opened with 6 residents.  It had a parent staffing model where a couple lived at the home during the week and someone else came in on the weekends. We had more Board members than we do now, and many committees as things were very hands-on, as we worked with our managers to expand and improve our agency.  The financial books were very simple compared to today and one of the Board members did them for the Board.  Over the years, the Board and managers had to face many struggles and challenges, such as our building burning to the ground one year, but the difficulties were always faced, the challenges overcome, and the work was very rewarding as our programs and activities became more developed.  A close relationship seemed to exist between the government department and our agency as both worked together to fulfill our common vision.

Today, overseeing an agency seems much more complex.  Presently, we serve 55 people in our programs in two communities, Nipawin and Tisdale, and have 60 staff members.  Our operating budget is about 2 million dollars, most of which is spent locally.  We will be opening our third group home this year which means that we will have 16 residents and 10 people independent living.  As well, we have two SARCAN depots and three small business operations, besides the day program.  Now when the Board oversees our operation, the books are very complex, done by a bookkeeper and reviewed by an independent auditor.  Board members have to rely on the managers and staff to do most of the hands-on activity.  The Board does future visioning and strategic planning.   Because of accountability and compliance expectations, there seems to be more regulations, paperwork, and bureaucracy to deal with. Of course, there are still challenges to be faced, but the rewards are still great as we see the many improvements that have been made along the way. 

One of the biggest changes over the years is that the attitude of the public has shifted.  Our community is more aware, more accepting, and more respectful of people with disabilities.  You will see people with disabilities working in the community, you may see them coming and going from their residences, and you will see them at many community events.  In this regard, the impact of SARCAN has been huge, for not only could agencies be partially funded through the depots, but people with disabilities had a chance to interact with the members of the community and proved that they could be contributing within the community.  One of our longest serving SARCAN employees now owns a home and his truck through his work at SARCAN.  Another major change is, as the needs of the people with disabilities in our agency become increasingly greater over the years, our agency has to adjust and adapt to accommodate their needs.  The lives of many people, not just people with disabilities, but parents, caregivers, employees, Board members, have been enriched over the years. The vision just expands and grows.

The growth of this vision in our agency has been supported by SARC, our provincial association, which serves over 80 member agencies in the province.  One significant change is that the services that SARC provides to the agencies have grown over the years.    From overseeing SARCAN to training, labor and legal support, policy development and advice, to pension and benefit administration and insurance programs, these programs help make our agencies stronger.  Last year, SARC was named the top business in the province of Saskatchewan by a Saskatchewan Business Magazine that annually rates Saskatchewan companies.  This was accomplished through the leadership of the Executive Director, Amy McNeil, the vision of the SARC Board, the dedication of the employees, and the support of the member agencies.

The vision of  HandiWorks, “Enriching Lives in a supportive environment”, helps support people with disabilities in Nipawin and Tisdale.  SARC provides support to HandiWorks and to the other agencies to make their jobs easier and to help fulfill these agencies’ visions.

Celebrating our successes and reviewing our past, noting the many changes that have happened over the years, is a very fulfilling experience.  Those individuals who were visionary enough to start this initiative could probably not realize at that time where their vision would lead.  I have found it to be a very rewarding experience to serve locally on our HandiWorks Board and provincially on the SARC Board.  Congratulations to everyone who has had a part in forwarding this vision and who will be guiding it into the future.    

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