As Red Roof Retreat gradually reopens, helping special needs kids and their families across the region, board members are meeting regularly to plan for the future of the organization.
With Steffanie Bjorgan at its helm as founder and executive director, Red Roof has a volunteer board eager to steer it through a gradual return to full strength and the many programs it offered pre-pandemic, which included an adult day program, a summer day camp, recreational programs, school trips, day visits, and horseback riding.
Board members have come together from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, each bringing a skill to the board that helps shape the direction and mission of Red Roof, as it continues to develop, even after many years of providing respite and recreational programs to children and young adults.
Brodie Townley has been one of those board members for the last five years. He moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2015, and was looking to get involved in the community, he says, when he met long-time board member Ward Simpson, and one of Red Rood’s staunchest supporters, at the golf club. Townley was hooked by his enthusiasm.
“We talked about Red Roof, and I liked the idea of it being a community charity, as opposed to one of the big-name organizations,” says Townley. “The fact that it’s a real hands-on role, getting involved in events, appealed to me.”
Townley, retired from a career with ScotiaBank in the treasury department — the last 12 years spent in the Bahamas — brings financial expertise to the board.
He is quick to admit that when he began volunteering he knew nothing of the needs the children Red Roof serves, or of organizations that provide such assistance.
“I had no family or friends in that situation, no experience in dealing with the challenges these kids and their families face,” he says.
“It has been a real eye-opener to me, how big the need is.”
Fundraising has so far been a pretty minor part of his role, with most of the fundraising events already well-established, he says, and Red Roof has been fortunate in the support it receives from the community, although there is always a need for funds to successfully operate its programs.
“Steff is a driving force in that department, and always has been. It’s hard to say no to her, and she has no problem asking for help. Whatever she needs, whether it’s money, or help with snowplowing or laying gravel at The Ranch (one of the Red Roof
properties), she has a way of finding it.”
Being on the board, he says, “you see the direction Red Roof is going, you see the face of Red Roof, and the local aspect that is so appreciated by people. I had no idea of the need right across the region, and what Red Roof is able to do.”
The programs now available for children and families “wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for Steffanie,” he added.
Going back in history, children with the kinds of challenges some children face might have become wards of the state, their parents unable to care for them. “We’ve come a long way since then. Parents wanted to keep their kids at home, and money became available for parents to spend to help them.”
As children become young adults, the need for support continues, and Red Roof has developed programs for them and their families, says Townley.
Sitting on the board, he has seen that while Red Roof is a local charity, its reach has grown, as has its need to have policies in place that reflect its size and growth. And that is a challenge for him, to help work on policy and governance issues, and to have them more formalized than they have been, “formalized in a very positive way, to guide Red Roof into the future, and putting down processes for moving forward.”
That’s the major skill he has brought to the table, he says, now that COVID is in the rear-view mirror. During the pandemic, “everything ground to a halt. Now it’s time to think about moving forward.”
Red Roof has a great group of people on its board, and from his perspective, the work they do is very rewarding.
“The board encourages its members to be involved. It’s a very up-front group, and you can see its successes.”
The best part, he says, is going to The Ranch when there is a program or a day camp with kids there, “and you see the look on their faces. They’re ecstatic to be there. It gives you such a good feeling to see that.”
As a parent of two adult children, he can appreciate how much that means to children and their parents, and also how much the respite means to parents, giving them time to spend with the rest of the family, the brothers and sisters who don’t always get the attention parents would like to give them.
“That’s why the shut-down has been so difficult. The kids missed the programs, and the families didn’t get a break. Caring for them is 24 hours a day, and that has been a real challenge.”
Red Roof is looking for more volunteers to start rebuilding its programs, and for new board members “to bring new blood, different views, and different ideas to the table, to look at all the opportunities to help lead it as it looks forward. And to put their hands up when something needs to be done, whatever it may be.”