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Locally-owned dealership gives back to the community

"If you take care of your community, your community takes care of you"

Smyl’s Highland Ford has been serving Sault Ste Marie under Darren Smyl’s leadership since 2011, and every year they work to support local charities.

The dealership’s longest running charitable partnership is with Children’s Aid Society of Algoma. Darren says that this relationship began when he first bought the dealership and was looking for a way to give back to the community. The spouse of one of his staff members works at Children’s Aid, and Darren felt it was an important cause to support.

Every year for the holidays, Highland and their staff donate a majority of the toys needed by Children’s Aid. The gifts are provided to children of all ages, from newborns to teenagers.

“Some years there aren’t a lot of kids and some years there are so many kids. We want to make sure that everybody has a good Christmas,” says Darren.

Other community initiatives that Darren and his team feel passionate about supporting are Algoma Ride for Autism and Take A Veteran Fishing, an event that’s hosted by The Algoma Fish and Game Club.

“We’ve been with Ride for Autism since day 1. We make a financial donation as well as host it. We have lots of staff here who ride bikes, and we also have several staff members whose families have been impacted by autism,” says Darren.

The dealership itself has been around since 1968, in a very different culture from 2023. Darren is proud of his staff’s knowledge of autism and their care in how they communicate with individuals on the autistic spectrum who enter the dealership. It’s part of their workplace culture to greet all customers with a smile and to make them feel welcome.

“When you come in, there’s that warm, friendly, cheery feeling. You really are a guest,” says Darren.

Highland Ford’s involvement with the Take A Veteran Fishing event began with a customer. Shane Turcotte, president of Algoma Fish and Game Club, told Darren that he wanted to do something to support local veterans. He came up with the idea of taking veterans on a guided day of fishing, followed by a gathering afterwards to eat dinner, take photos, and share fishing stories. The event is open to all interested veterans and active duty military members as a way to show the community’s gratitude for their service. Darren immediately signed the dealership up as a title sponsor.

“They get 20 boats out there, take 40 veterans fishing, treat them to dinner afterwards, and they have a great time. We’ve noticed and Shane has noticed that it's certainly helped with their level of PTSD. Getting on the water is a nice distraction for them,” says Darren.

Darren and his staff have kept track of their charitable giving since 2011. They are now at approximately $700,000 given to local charities through financial and in-kind donations. In addition to annual initiatives, the staff at the dealership support local organizations with their Casual Fridays.

On Fridays, staff at Highland Ford are permitted to wear clothing like jeans, provided that they put $2 into a jar for charity. Every two to three months, the staff collectively decide where the money will be donated. Being a group of animal lovers, many donations from the dealership have been given to local charities that support the welfare of animals. Darren leaves that up to the employees.

Darren believes in locally owned businesses giving back to their neighbours, and not just during the holiday season. “I think it’s a circle of life thing. If you take care of your community, your community takes care of you. And we’ve seen that.”

Visit Smyl's Highland Ford at 68 Great Northern Road, or online here.