Opinion Letters

LETTER: Thank you, Betty

Betty Forward, 86, founded Helping Hands in 1972, then a housewife raising eight sons.

KATE GRIGG/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES Betty Forward, 86, founded Helping Hands in 1972, then a housewife raising eight sons.

As we heard the sad news that our founder, Betty Forward, passed away on Aug. 17, we reflect on how grateful we, as an organization and community, are to Betty for her leadership in advocating for seniors and the need for community support services, in Orillia.

With an idea raised with her 16-year-old son Miles, Betty Forward had the vision and determination to start up Helping Hands. In 1972, she incorporated the organization as a not-for-profit corporation.

From her humble beginnings at the kitchen table in Orillia, anyone would have been hard-pressed to imagine that the idea of a grass-roots movement for community services would grow into what it is today; a well-established and legitimate part of the local and regional health care system in Orillia and surrounding townships.

Armed with a bold vision and fierce determination, with little in the way of resources, Helping Hands was born. Betty overcame obstacle after obstacle, slowly and methodically growing Helping Hands, when community members said it was a good idea but shouldn't be done as it was too complicated. Betty proved them wrong. She was a great collaborator and a tenacious person, and felt working together as a community was the best way to move her vision forward.

Betty was a vocal advocate for seniors, offering them support services to stay in their homes and live independently. This was a big, bold idea in the '70s where often people felt seniors should be living in long-term care facilities, but not Betty. She felt seniors were best served staying in their own homes as long as possible, with help from the community. In today's climate, this is now well accepted; even a vital strategy to the future of health care in Ontario.

Helping Hands has grown from operating out of Betty's kitchen, while she raised eight boys, with just over 18 homemakers, to today's Helping Hands as we know it with nearly 100 employees, 150 volunteers and serving over 1,900 clients annually.

As it grew, Betty kept a pulse on Helping Hands, even when she wasn't directly involved in its operations anymore. After all, she was a woman of action. She believed in getting things done and wanted to make sure that attitude stayed with Helping Hands. "I remember, vividly, Betty coming into the office unexpectedly one day" recalls Rob Soczka, executive director at Helping Hands. "I had just taken on the role as ED and we had a lot to do. Things were hectic but I remember meeting Betty for the first time in the reception area, being introduced, and then we sat down and it seemed like time stood still for a bit. Her mobility was failing her but she was sharp and to the point. She wanted to meet me in person, she said. She wanted to size me up to see what I was all about. I remember we sat on the couch for a good while, talking about the past, the present and future of Helping Hands. Her questions were pointed, she wanted to see what kind of attitude I had, to see if I was worthy of taking Helping Hands into the future. I could tell that she was a person who appreciated action and decisiveness. I will always remember that meeting."

Betty's vision is still growing within Helping Hands, as the demand for our services increases each year. As the population it serves has evolved, so has the services offered by the organization Betty started.

Starting with homemaking and transportation, other services later followed including personal care, respite services for caregivers, friendly visits, Meals on Wheels, transitional beds and other programs, from those humble beginnings. We are very grateful for Betty Forward's vision and for her passion for our community.

Thank you, Betty Forward, for making our community a more caring place in which to live. We are proud to carry on this legacy, in your honour.

Shannon Hunter

and Rob Soczka

Board Chair and Executive Director

Helping Hands, Orillia 

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