By Erika Mathieu
Westwind Weekly News
For the first time since the 2021 civic election, SASH’s Executive Director, Darren Bennett, provided an update to the new council on the not-for-profit society’s mandate and future goals.
SASH is a registered society that provides Community Access and home living supports to individuals with developmental disabilities, across southern Alberta.
“It gives individuals with disabilities something to do in the community. People with disabilities, have the same desires, the same goals, the same dreams as everybody else. As an agency, that’s what brought SASH together was to provide opportunities for people to have meaningful roles in the community, to be included in the community, to be seen in the community, and valued in the community and that’s our vision and our role,” explained Bennet.
“This year is my 15th year, and SASH is celebrating, its 35th anniversary this year and we’ve done a lot of things throughout the last year. We’re still doing a lot more to end the year as well.”
Bennet has been with the organization since 2007, and explained most of SASH’s funding come from the provincial government, “through a contract,” but added, “our main grassroots is here in Magrath. Over the years we have expanded into Lethbridge as well as Raymond, Cardston, Stirling, Warner, and Fort McLeod.”
SASH currently provides supports to over 80 individuals with developmental disabilities. Bennett estimated that between 40 and 45 of those clients are located in the Magrath area. Currently, SASH has a number of social enterprises as well, including a contract with the Town of Magrath to do the recycling at the bottle depot. Bennett said in addition to this, the SASH’s pizza kitchen, which provides an employment support for workers within the SASH network in Magrath.
Bennett said the organization is also, “looking at some other options,” in Raymond, including the possibility of working alongside the town on a possible food pantry. He added the organization has, “limited resources,” with things they are able to accomplish in Magrath and Raymond.
Bennett’s report to council also raised the issue of wage increases, which is particularly concerning given the record-high inflation over the past year alone.
SASH currently has over 180 employees and contractors throughout the region. He said despite this reach, SASH staff, “have not had a wage increase for nine years from the government of Alberta.”
Part of Bennett’s job will be to meet with key PDD (persons with developmental disabilities) people in Alberta including the deputy minister, and MLAs.
Bennett said one the disability worker’s association SASH belongs to, “has really made this an issue throughout the whole province,” and added, “we are, right now, in a little bit of a crisis.”
“It seems like when enough people get upset and complain in every 10 or 15 years, the government provides money into the system,” he said.
“All of our staff are working on the same salaries basically, that they did nine years ago. So we’re always trying to advocate. We’re always trying to come up with better services and support.”
Bennett said, “we have had a lot of referrals from the Magrath area this year, but said finding qualified staff to work in Magrath and Raymond has be a continuous challenge. He added that while education and experience may be factors in working as a support worker with SASH, “there’s also some people that have more of a natural ability or more inclined to human services.”
“If there’s any ever any opportunities to partner to do things,” with the Town of Magrath Bennett said SASH is on board. “We are really trying to expand our volunteer services.”