George Wright was at Sault College presenting on behalf of the United Way recently when he saw an “older age fella” with a service dog sitting in the lobby.
Wright thought the man seemed out of place somehow, approached him to talk, and found out that he had recently returned to the Sault and was unemployed.
Wright connected him with the career centre and the man is now has a job, something that might not have happened if Wright hadn’t recognized the man was likely in need or if he didn’t take that little extra moment to approach him.
Wright wasn’t actually on the clock at that moment, but in some ways, he was just doing his job.
“It’s the way I was raised, if you can help someone, help them, but you don’t just 'do' for somebody. People have to 'do' for themselves - but you can give them the opportunity to do that,” said Wright.
His good work and others’ were celebrated last night at the United Way’s 2016 Campaign Achievement Award Ceremonies held at the Algoma's Water Tower Inn & Suites.
Wright, as part of his job, actually walks the streets of Sault Ste. Marie looking for people to help.
Since 2014, he has been working out of the Neighbourhood Resource Centre (NRC) located on Gore Street primarily performing the role of ‘options navigator’ – literally helping people at risk ‘navigate’ their community resource ‘options’.
Wright is employed by the John Howard Society but for the last year the funding for his position has come from the United Way.
In 2016, the Sault Ste. Marie Poverty Reduction Round Table – a group formed by several local social services groups and co-chaired by the United Way – decided to tackle what they saw as the root cause of many local problems – poverty.
“The idea was not to put a Band Aid on problems but to actually get at the cause of these issues. (The Poverty Reduction Round Table) decided to really focus on a poverty reduction strategy and each of the organizations involved looked at an area where they thought they could have the greatest impact,“ said United Way’s 2016 campaign chair Kathleen McFadden at a Tuesday night awards ceremony that celebrated some of the United Ways partners and volunteers.
To work with this plan, the United Way has committed itself to five years of focusing on solving problems specifically to the identified issue areas of ‘essential services’ and ‘workplace entry’.
Wright's work at the NRC is at the ground level of their strategy.
“Quite often people living in poverty are living in isolation and feel disconnected from the community. They aren’t really aware of the opportunities that are out there and think their choices are very narrow. George helps them see the bigger picture and identify the options that are there and he helps them step by step figure out a means to achieve what they need, and maximize their potential level of achievement can be,” said McFadden.
The sorts of stories coming out of the NRC describe people in severely at-risk situations, coming in to the centre, getting pointed to local groups that can help them, and making very real positive changes in their lives.
One man who is described as ‘significantly addicted’ and out of work came into the NRC to see a doctor at one of their weekly free walk-in clinics. Two and half years later he is now deep into a drug rehabilitation program and employed.
Wright recalls another young woman with no post secondary education getting hooked up with funding resources online and finishing a program through Sault College.
Other stories included a couple who were both unemployed and after coming into the NRC, through coaching in interview and resume skills and getting hooked up with resources and programs, found employment and post secondary education.
“I feel honoured to receive the award, and very humbled,” said Wright. “I think its critically important for people to support the good work that goes on in Sault Ste. Marie and the United Way is invested in the good work that belongs in our city. The money that they raise here stays in our city… and helps to ensure success for the people here.”
The full list United Way 2016 Campaign Achievement Award Ceremony award winners are as follows :
Outstanding Volunteer Speakers Bureau – George Wright
Outstanding Volunteer Contribution Award – Allan Hackett
Outstanding Employee Campaign Award (workplaces with over 100 employees) – Soo Mill Buildall
Outstanding Employee Campaign Award (workplaces with under 100 employees) – BDO Canada
Outstanding Corporate Campaign Award (workplaces with over 100 employees) – ARAUCO North America
Outstanding Corporate Campaign Award (workplaces with under 100 employees) – Hydro One Sault Ste. Marie
Making the Difference Award – Soo Mill Buildall
Thom McDonough Public Service Award – employees of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Health Lab
Chair Awrd of Merit -LCBO Sault Ste. Marie and district
President’s Award – PUC
Leading the Way Award – Kathy Sylvestre