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It’s been all about community building for 27 years

Woolwich Community Services’ fearless leader will be leaving his post this summer after 27 years.

In announcing his plan to retire, executive director Don Harloff said with the transition to the new building completed it was time for him to also transition out of WCS.

“My goal has always been to do the best I can for the community and one of the great results of my time here has been being able to put together this new resource centre here. The thought was it’s up and running, it’s working really, really well, we have a financial plan in place to complete the payment for it and I think that’s the end of a chapter, if you like,” Harloff said.

He’ll be leaving in June, a month he’s deemed as an appropriate time of year to make the change, as the agency is in a good position with all the budgeting and grant processes taken care of for the year by that time. Harloff says this should give his replacement a nice start to get acclimatized to the organization.

He plans to enjoy the summer off doing some of his favourite activities, such as golfing and woodworking. He may look into some part-time opportunities in the fall, but says retiring means he and his wife will be able to enjoy themselves while they’re still healthy and active.

In its bid for a replacement, WCS is looking inside and outside the organization. The job ad is up on Charity Village’s website for those who are interested. Résumés are due by Mar. 3.

“My task at this point in time is to review résumés as they come in and to shortlist some resumes for a hiring committee that is made up of the board of directors. So the board of directors will be doing the hiring.”

For his final four months at the helm he plans to continue with business as usual, but also organizing contacts, schedules and a calendar for his successor to make the switch as seamless as possible.

As WCS’ executive director since the agency operated out of a painfully small brick building on Arthur Street, he’s seen his fair share of changes in terms of what the organization offers and how it’s offered.

He says one of the other significant changes he’s experienced is the shift from the majority of their funds coming from government funding, where now it’s down to about 40 per cent.

“It’s very difficult to find new dollars, and I’m not talking about the community, I’m talking about funding, grants – government funds are very difficult to obtain any longer.  The best you can do at this point in time is one-time dollars that might exist.”

As the main social services agency for Woolwich and the northern part of Wellesley, they’ve been challenged by the changing needs in the community and how to best address them. Somehow, they’ve always found a way, despite being just six full-time staff and six part-time staff for the past 15 years.

“What a ridiculously wonderful community this is. We’re sitting in a building that the community has basically primarily paid for, we raised $1.3 million in six months. Fifty per cent of our work here is paid through community donations and fundraising. We have 140 volunteers active within Woolwich Community Services. The relationships that we’ve been able to build in the community are just incredible.”

Harloff came to WCS after working for seven years supporting families with children who are developmentally delayed. While he enjoyed connecting them with the services they needed, he wondered what else he might do with his career. He says the reason he liked the idea of this job and the reason he still loves it is because of the variety of it.

“It’s a really diverse opportunity to work in so many different sectors of social services, so that’s what’s so intriguing about the position. You’re not just focused on one area and supporting people with one thing, you’re doing so many things across so many different age groups.”

As for highlights of his time at WCS, he mentions the relationships he’s been able to build both with the staff and the community. He says those relationships began when he arrived in 1990 in the immediate aftermath of the Uniroyal (now Chemtura) groundwater crisis in Elmira.

He’s part of the original Woolwich Healthy Communities group, which he describes as a wonderful memory. He also recalls helping build the Fountain of Memories in Gore Park in 2001 and how the community came together when many township youth died.

“Internally, here it’s just being able to bring in some programs, modify programs and to be able to look at the community and the supports the community is looking for and to be able to expand on those things.”

Admitting his biased opinion, he suggests some of WCS’ programs are the best of anywhere, such as the family violence prevention program and the food hamper program.

“Our staff and volunteers provide the service to people in a very dignified, respectful manner, and that’s the most important thing.”

Looking ahead, Harloff sees plenty of work to be done as the township continues to grow. He notes the need for different kinds of housing will be critical.

“I’ve been blessed to be here for 27 years and brought the programs along and brought the agency along to this point, and I think it’s time for someone else to come in and be able to do that.”

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