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NeighbourLink’s future will be decided April 26

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

NORTHUMBERLAND - 

The fate of NeighbourLink Northumberland will be decided at its April 26 annual general meeting, and the board is recommending that it close down its operations permanently.

It’s a public meeting, starting at 10 a.m. at the Salvation Army church in Cobourg (at 59 Ballantine St.), and representatives of member churches, municipal officials and volunteers have been invited to attend. 

A press release issued on behalf of the interdenominational charity, which has been in operation locally since 1993, said it is facing a shortage of volunteers as well as a decline in the perceived need for its existence.

Designed to provide volunteers to offer services not otherwise available, NeighbourLink has found that many of those early services have been taken over by other organizations. Most recently NeighbourLink has been instrumental in setting up the Souper Time and Summer Sandwich programs, which are being continued by individual churches. 

Information provided by the organization set out some of the recent trends that have affected NeighbourLink:

• Government and other agencies have picked up some of the slack in social services which NeighbourLink had been looking after. For instance, they are no longer needed to look after the county’s support program for food banks.

• The number of telephone requests for help has decreased markedly, due to some degree to the cost-saving move to a cell phone — which means they are no longer listed in telephone directories.

• Churches which are providing services initiated by NeighbourLink seem happy to continue these without the agency’s co-ordination. 

• Suggestions for new programs have received limited support at the board level, where a shortage of volunteers is seen as a major problem 

• While faithfully supporting NeighbourLink with their annual dues, supporting congregations often have little other involvement. Even congregational representatives on the board are finding it difficult to recruit replacements.

While the board will recommend that the agency discontinue operations, the announcement said, there are some members who have put forth arguments to the contrary.

• The name still retains some recognition value.

• The agency is set up as a charity that can supply tax-deductible receipts, which is a significant advantage.

• One of its main purposes is to provide an organization where Christian congregations of all stripes can work together, and they are reluctant to see this lost.

Jim Weller has provided a brief history of the organization, whose genesis was a series of informal meetings in 1992 to consider ways by which churches of different denominations might work together for their mutual benefit and for the community as a whole. 

Pastor Herb Van Essen of Lakeshore Methodist Church (which has since closed) spoke of an American organization called Love Inc. and its Canadian counterpart NeighbourLink, operated by World Vision. The group decided to consider this as a solution.

David Adcock, a priest and lawyer with World Vision, led a series of training sessions to put together a team to establish a Cobourg NeighbourLink branch, and appeals to local churches were successful.

In November 1993, NeighbourLink, Cobourg and District was incorporated, and opened for business with a membership of nine churches of nine denominations – thanks in large measure to the persuasive powers of Peggy Adamson of Trinity United Church, who became the first chair, and Marg Vanderschaaf of Cobourg Alliance Church as program director.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church provided the office, staffed three mornings a week by telephone volunteers who processed the requests. By its 10th anniversary , NeighbourLink volunteers from member churches had undertaken 5,000 assistance projects of various kinds in support of local residents. 

World Vision eventually withdrew from its oversight of NeighbourLink organizations in order to concentrate more on international-aid programs, leading to local autonomy for NeighbourLink of Cobourg and District in 2008.

At this time, they decided to broaden their area of service and change the name to NeighbourLink Northumberland. Around the same time, it was decided to relinquish the office at St. Michael’s and have telephone volunteers receive calls in their homes via a NeighbourLink cell phone. 

In the intervening years, alternate organizations (some with government funding) emerged and began taking care of certain types of requests NeighbourLink had been receiving. At the same time, the number of volunteers available through member churches began declining.

Though one of the major purposes for NeighbourLink was to develop co-operation among local churches through this shared endeavour, other joint activities have been developing. Perhaps most notably, there is the SouperTime program that provides thousands of free lunches during the year for those of limited means through the efforts of five NeighbourLink member churches.

This is augmented by provision of free foot care, blood-pressure tests and dental advice, Weller’s account said.

The Personal Needs Cupboard, the Meal-in-a-Bag exchange and Christmas carol singing at Victoria Hall are three other independent activities originated by NeighbourLink. 

Whether the agency continues (and in what form) will be one of the key orders of business at the April 26 meeting, and anyone interested is welcome to attend.