The Society for the Involvement of Good Neighbors (SIGN) has become an integral part of the Yorkton community with a history stretching back 50-years.
The organization “provides leadership, programs and services that assist, support and empower children, adults and families to achieve lifelong success, leading to strong and caring citizens and communities,” as detailed in SIGN’s Mission Statement.
Leading that effort for the past 39 years have been only four executive directors three of those living; Clay Serby, Tom Seeley and Andrew Sedley. The late Wink Howland held the position from 1991-'94. Recently, Yorkton This Week sat down with the trio to talk about SIGN and its history now that it has achieved a half century of service in the city.
Serby, who held the executive director’s position from 1980 to 1991, said he always recognized that there was potential for SIGN to grow.
“I knew that it was going to grow,” he said, but added not to the extent “of the size and level of services it does today ... The size and variety that was very difficult to foresee.”
As it was, Serby said SIGN was active even in his day at the helm.
“It was a very busy place when I was here,” he said, then adding, “The growth since my time here, it’s phenomenal.”
Seeley, who was executive director from 1995 to 2009, said the biggest change, which allowed for much of the growth came when John and Sonja Remai stepped forward with an idea.
“He (John) asked, ‘Tom what would you think if we donated this building (the former Corona Hotel on Broadway), and its contents to your organization?’” said Seeley.
For 10-months Seeley, and the then Board of Directors did its “due diligence” on the offer, he said, adding there was some concern at the table the building might be more than SIGN could handle. But the organization took up the offer, and changed what could be accomplished moving forward.
“Something like that wasn’t on anyone’s radar,” said Seeley. “The organization has grown considerably since then.”
Sedley, the current executive director said the foresight to take on the former hotel has been important in the years since.
“It’s been important, not only to SIGN, but our community,” he said.
The extra room has allowed SIGN to allow space for organizations that provide complimentary services to what they do themselves. That has been important in helping the public. Where once, they had to suggest help from other organizations across the city somewhere, today those of services are in the same building.
“Instead of faxing off a referral form, now we walk people down the hallway and introduce them to other service providers,” he said.
In terms of growing, SIGN has always focused on responding to community needs.
“It’s always been community driven,” said Seeley, adding being local SIGN has had the ability to be responsive to changes in the Yorkton.
That is as it must be, suggested Serby.
“It has to be a community driven thing, it was designed that way,’ he said.
Serby said he recalls a time when his Board wanted to see some growth, but that he found he didn’t have to come up with ideas “they walked through the door” as the community brought its needs to SIGN to help address.
In developing programs it almost comes down to providing a service to deal with a concern in the community.
Sedley said that as a primary community-based organization (CBO), SIGN is well positioned to be adaptive and responsive to needs, and that has meant growth.
Where Serby oversaw eight, or nine programs and an annual budget of $200,000, Seeley was looking after 19 programs by his term’s end, with a budget of $3.5 million.
Today, Sedley oversees a budget of $6 million and 24 different programs.
And, programming continues to evolve.
Sedley noted SIGN now provides drop-in mental health services, being one of five pilot projects for the program across the province, indicative of the organization’s ability to respond to change and needs.
The need for additional focus on mental health is something that has been somewhat overdue, admitted the trio.
Sedley said bringing the issue the forefront is a huge step in itself.
“As a community we’re talking about mental health at least,” he said.
Serby said that is a key, suggesting that there is greater awareness of mental health issues today than 20-years ago, and a greater willingness for people to seek out help.
Another issue coming to greater attention now is homelessness. Seeley said it’s not so much a case of people living on the street, but rather having two or three families living in inadequate housing. The issue is not exactly new but is more pronounced now.
“It was there,” said Serby, “but certainly not as visible as it is today.”
Seeley said often an issue is only addressed when money for programming come along.
“Funding wasn’t on the government either,” he said.
The other important element for SIGN is giving people in need in the community a safe haven to seek help, said Sedley.
“One thing the organization does is help people overcome isolation,” he said, adding when things are going badly, it is easy to feel alone. People can turn to SIGN and provide a helping hand in terms of getting to the right service provider.
As those needs change, Sedley said SIGN will continue to evolve to help.
“First and foremost we’ll always be looking at the needs of the community, and the potential supports we could develop,” he said.
That is why Seeley is involved in a new effort to look into homelessness, and what can be done to help, and effort SIGN is part of too. He said SIGN has always tried “to be part of working on the solutions.”
Yorkton has long had a reputation of working together, said Sedley. “It’s just the way we’ve always done things. The relationships are there.”
That is why SIGN works, said Seeley.
“It’s a reflection of the community,” he said.
“In a big way,” added Serby.
The reflective nature of SIGN will continue too.
“There will be an outstanding future for SIGN going forward,” said Serby.
Seeley agreed adding that is assured because the staff “are passionate about the programs that they deliver.”
“It’s just having a finger on the pulse of the community,” said Sedley, “being the go-to for different needs seen in the community.”