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Youth retreat builds new skills and community

Ross McIntyre

The belief everyone can contribute to his or her community is a cornerstone for many groups. This belief is made real by the work of many community organizations in our area, but Simcoe Community Services (SCS) is unique and fills an important need.

SCS is a charitable, non-profit organization that offers support to children, teens and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. It has been fulfilling that mission since 1953, when concerned parents wanted to create an alternative space that would allow their children to thrive. Those parents saw a need that was unfulfilled and took action. Today, that support takes on a variety of forms and SCS is creative and diligent with regard to ensuring success for the populations it serves.

To paraphrase an idea put forth by Gandhi, Pearl S. Buck, Jimmy Carter and many others, a community can be defined by how it treats the most vulnerable of its members. By setting standards and working to ensure a positive quality of life for its members, SCS is a local community builder unlike any other.

That was demonstrated recently at the SCS March Break Youth Retreat, held March 12 to 14 at YMCA Geneva Park. More than 60 local youth of different abilities got together for the retreat that focused on learning new and valuable skills to promote being a better leader, friend and student. Those goals were accomplished through workshops, social time with one another and keynote speakers who had disabilities and served as positive role models for the participants.

Much of the retreat was focused on skill building that will allow youth to continue their positive transition into adulthood. Anyone who has been a teenager, or a parent of one, may recall that transition is no easy task, making the specialized work of SCS all the more valuable.

In a fashion true to many strong, local community groups, SCS finds support for this and many other programs through the generosity of local businesses, service groups and individuals. A dozen local organizations supported the March Break Youth Retreat, including the Rotary Club of Orillia, Optimist Club of Barrie and Orillia Lions Club.

The partnerships go even further at SCS to include the work done by Georgian College Community Projects Initiative (CPI) students. In the past several years, the CPI program has made a large impact in Orillia, placing Georgian College students with organizations to plan and deliver a project. Of the March Break Youth Retreat, one CPI student said, “It was a truly wonderful experience to be able to share these memorable moments with the youth and a great feeling to be welcomed with open arms by everyone.”

That sentiment reflects the values of SCS. It is a space that fosters respect, dignity, inclusiveness and person-centred excellence. The last value may be a new term for some, but it is a great way to view our own lives as well as the impact we have on others. How do we build resiliency, find opportunity and live up to responsibilities in our own lives? We all want to be part of something great at one point or another and perhaps the idea of person-centred excellence gives us a way to start within ourselves.

The SCS Foundation depends on the generosity of donors and partners to provide support that significantly improves the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

For information on how you can help, email Lisa Spinks-Smith, fund developer for the SCS Foundation, at

Ross McIntyre is a director at Camp Couchiching and the Couchiching Community Initiative. He is passionate about outdoor education and community building. This column profiles community organizations dedicated to Orillia and opportunities for local youth engagement. If you have a story idea, email

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