Sad news for the seniors of our community, with the news that Susan Smith is leaving her position as Executive Director for Seniors’ Community Services (SCS), formerly known as Kemptville and District Home Support Inc. Susan has taken a wonderful organisation, founded by Cheryl Brown almost 30 years ago, and made it a core service centre for seniors around the region. Readers of the NG Times will know Susan from her regular “Let’s Connect” columns, in which she shared thoughts, wisdom, and insights.
Looking back over the time heading the activities at the Centre, Susan could take real pleasure and pride in what has been accomplished.
“It’s been great. And to see the growth in the programs and now, instead of three full time staff, there’s four of us; and we’ve needed that, because of the different services and activities that are going on.”
The range of services and activities has expanded greatly, and more and more people are being helped, are finding companionship, friendship, and a sense of belonging that would surely be missing if they were isolated at home. Susan gives a great deal of credit to the many volunteers who make the centre work so smoothly and so well.
“And even now during Covid, we still have volunteers because our site is still locked, but they feel safe coming to answer the phones and help, putting out some of the information, and the calls are going out. People are stepping up saying, what can I do to help?”
The real magic is that the people feel comfortable, can be themselves, and feel they are in a safe and caring environment when they come to the centre. As Susan points out: “Because for me, it’s always about the people. It’s about that, you know, people who need services, about people just stopping in for information, people wanting to volunteer. And whether or not it’s a fit for us, you try to find them someplace else in the community. Or just when somebody calls, you take that few minutes to stop and chat with them. And I think the fact that people feel open to talk with each other when they come into the centre, and that it’s a safe place, that whether it’s volunteers that talk with each other, or staff and clients and volunteers, or that we’re all chatting. But to know that whatever you’re saying isn’t going to go anywhere else, that you can feel supported; or, if you need other information, where can you take your issues to? And just connecting people. It’s just, that’s what makes it so amazing.”
That comes down to Susan’s leadership. It takes someone special to create that kind of atmosphere; where people are comfortable and feel that they have something to contribute and they will be allowed to contribute without being slapped down. Susan brought that with her when she arrived seven years ago. In her last position, she had over 600 volunteers and over 100 staff. That approach has served the SCS well, as Susan describes it: “I always say that we’re all colleagues, whether or not I was the boss, or the supervisor, or whatever; that it’s an organization for the people, and it’s not my organization. So I’ve always taken that stance, that I’m here just to look after it for the moment, and then to pass it on to somebody else.”
Another important secret to the success Susan has had in building SCS to the level it has reached is a proper perspective on herself and those she works with. As she has said: “You have to be able to laugh. You have to have some fun. There are definitely stressful times, sad moments; but to laugh at ourselves as well. Like, my goodness, sometimes I think of anybody walking by my office while I’m talking to myself and laughing at myself!”
She loves people with a genuineness that is based on knowing the value of each interaction, each conversation. “The number of people that come through our lives really shape us. I truly believe they shape us, whether or not we want to be like them, or not like them. It does move us toward, hopefully, a better us. And making a difference for other people, because it’s not about us. It’s about the seniors, or the adults with physical disabilities. People tell me, ‘I couldn’t have got to my appointment without those volunteers’, or the Meals on Wheels going out, even during Covid. They are just so grateful to see another person, to have a quick chat on the porch. So it’s providing a great service. And our volunteers are calling people on the telephone. At the beginning of Covid, it was maybe just a check and a couple of times a week, then it was more. Now it’s almost daily for a lot of people.”
Sad to be leaving SCS after her time there, Susan’s departure will cause much sadness among those she has touched through her years of service. In a perfect world, the SCS Board should be tearing down trees and doing what-ever is necessary to keep a treasure like this. Susan Smith has built well on the foundations that were laid before, and this community can only hope and pray that someone is found to continue her work.
As for Susan, she looks back on seven years with real happiness and gratitude to her staff, to the volunteers, and to the seniors who have taught her and shared with her so much. She thinks of Bev Nye, “who was such an important part of everything that I did during my first five years until she retired. And it’s phenomenal what you learn from some in a short period of time because you’ve paused, and you’re fully attentive to that person on the phone or in front of you. They’re a person who has feelings and emotions, and whatever it is they’re dealing with. So you spend enough time, and then you can find that connection and you can help support that person, and you grow from that as well in yourself, you learn a lot of patience. And that’s why it’s been so wonderful here. To be able to be myself, I think, has been so valuable. I think everybody that has come through the door, called, or any of the sponsors, everything has made a difference in my life. It’s been so phenomenal that it’s really, really enriched my life. So, it’s been such a such a wonderful journey these past seven years. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank everyone.”