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Celebrating International Women's Day with 100 Women Who Care South Simcoe

'The larger our membership, the more impact we can make to our community.'
Amy Simpson at the podium, for 'hybrid' meeting of 100 Women Who Care South Simcoe - in person, but also online via Zoom.

100 Women Who Care South Simcoe held its very first meeting in February of 2020 – just before the pandemic shut things down.

Inspired by the movement, 100 Men Who Give a Damn, the group hoped to grow to 100 members in the Barrie, Innisfil and Bradford areas – attracting women committed to their communities, who are willing to put their money behind their convictions, by each donating $100 four times a year at the group's meetings.

Covid not only cancelled all in-person meetings, forcing sessions online, it also hobbled the organization’s membership drive, leaving the membership hovering around 20 for the past two years.

Tuesday night’s meeting – held, appropriately, on International Women’s Day – was the first time members could get together in person since that inaugural meeting.

“It’s kind of a trial, to do hybrid,” said Amy Simpson, one of the founders and a host of the meeting. Members and guests were also offered the option to attend via Zoom, if they were not comfortable with an in-person gathering.

The session followed the usual format, with presenters from three local charities explaining the goals, contributions and aspirations of their organizations, and asking for financial support.

The women heard from Community Veterinary Outreach, a charity founded by Ottawa area veterinarian Michelle Lem, that provides health care to the pets of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – and holistically, also provides health supports for the human pet owners.

Entirely volunteer, the charity reaches out to the homeless through social agencies, not veterinary offices, providing a “one health umbrella,” explained Vet Tech Kris Burns – offering free services that include vaccination, deworming, microchipping, flea and tick medication, and prescription diet food, plus a “swag room” filled with donated leashes and doggie coats, for the pets.

The clinics also address human health needs. “These people are normally isolated," Burns noted; the charity works to “connect them with the resources they need.”

She added, “We know what pets mean to us. Imagine what people do when pets are their stability… People who take care of their pets are more likely to take care of themselves. Pets are a gateway.”

Community Vet Outreach has held several clinics in York Region, and is now planning to hold a clinic in downtown Barrie, with support from the community. “We’re hopeful,” Burns said.

Next up was Sweet Charity Medical Assistance Dogs, a charitable organization launched in 2014 to provide canine ambassadors in classrooms, and train service dogs for individuals with disabilities.

Not only were members of Sweet Charity’s Board of Directors on hand to talk about the work of the organization, clients and trainers were also in attendance.

One mom explained that her 11-year-old son has physical disabilities that “are pervasive.” When he started Grade 3, he lost the services of an educational assistant – and went from a kid who loved school, to one who “did not want to go to school. We had lots of suspensions.”

Mickey, the support dog trained by Sweet Charity specifically to meet her son's needs, has made all the difference, she said. With his dog, “in 10 seconds he can calm down. (He) will tell you he loves Mickey.”

The cost of the two-year training program is approximately $25,000 per dog, said Jean Hargreaves, Board chair. Families are asked to cover $3,000 of the cost; the remainder is raised through grants and fundraising events – most of which have been on hold over the past two years.

So far, the organization has trained and placed three medical assistance dogs, and has two currently in training, with plans to expand the program.

As for the canine ambassadors, dog owners can volunteer with their animals, taking part in the 14 to 16-hour training program, that leads to certification.

Pre-Covid, Sweet Charity had about 70 of the ambassadorial teams – but the pandemic has closed the classrooms to visitors. “We’re hoping they’ll be back in early May,” Hargreaves said, noting that dogs in the classrooms have been found to reduce anxiety for the kids.

“It’s about well-being. It’s about empathy,” she said.

The final speaker was Andee Pelan, executive director of Living Green Barrie, described as “Barrie’s only registered environmental agency.”

For the past 30 years, Living Green Barrie has promoted plastics recycling, organized community gardens, and held tree-planting initiatives. The charitable organization made a five-year commitment to planting 10,000 trees, in Barrie’s parks and public lands, and despite a “shoestring budget” and the impact of COVID, has managed to plant 3,000 trees so far.

“We have a very large presence and a long history,” Pelan said, although funding is an ongoing issue. She made a pitch for support, especially for the charity’s Green Education programs.

The focus is on hope, she said, and on addressing climate change – not as an overwhelming global issue, but as something that can be addressed household by household, “by making people personally aware of what can be done.”

With plans for community orchards and gardens, an Earth Day plant sale of native trees and shrubs, and at least 8 tree-planting events planned this May, Pelan said, “We are an underfunded but very scrappy organization that needs your help.” 

Living Green Barrie wants to expand its tree-planting programs to include private property since the bulk of land in the Barrie area is privately owned. A new initiative would educate the public on how to choose the best species, how to plant, and how to care for their trees, focusing on “education and after-care, to ensure that one hundred years from now we have a beautiful urban canopy.”

After the speeches, 100 Women who Care members cast their votes for the “charity of choice”, which will receive 80 percent of the funds raised at the meeting. The other two charities each receive 10 percent but, noted Simpson, “Everybody’s a winner” – with each charity also having the opportunity to expand its outreach and public profile.

Based on the balloting, Sweet Charity Medical Assistance Dogs will take home the lion’s share of the funding.

“Last night we raised $1,900 so far,” said Simpson, noting that fundraising will continue on the group’s Facebook page for at least another few days.

100 Women Who Care South Simcoe has raised and distributed $18,400 since it was founded two years ago.

“We would like to at least double our numbers between now and the end of the year,” said Simpson. “The larger our membership, the more impact we can make to our community.”

For information on 100 Women who Care South Simcoe, click here. Contacts for the individual charities profiled at the March 8 meeting are provided below:

Sweet Charity Medical Assistance Dogs.

Community Vet Outreach.

Living Green Barrie.

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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