Organizing community services in Parksville and area

Renate Sutherland says it was the SOS that led her to non-profit organizations.

Renate Sutherland

Renate Sutherland

Renate Sutherland found her life’s calling in helping people, thanks to her experience as a young woman, working for the Society of Organized Services in Parksville from 1992 to 1996.

It was this experience in a not-for-profit organization that allowed her to grow as a person, develop skills and try out various roles with the SOS — and to eventually return as its executive director.

“It was a good fit for me,” she says of her early years with the SOS. “People were supportive of my growth within the organization.”

She recalled it was then-executive director Kay Burgoyne, who taught her to take care of herself emotionally, to ensure Sutherland was able to work objectively for people who came to the SOS for help.

“Remember, we’re not going to save the whole world,” she said of how volunteers and staff at the SOS approach their work. “But we’re going to do the parts that we can, and at the end of the day, we can make a difference to somebody.”

Sutherland took those skills and knowledge and in 1996, went to work for the United Way in Nanaimo, her home town. She has lived in Parksville since 1981. As executive director there for three years, she found herself immersed in fundraising and building relationships and increasing the United Way’s profile within that community.

“I learned I’m not a really good fundraiser,” she admitted. “But I also learned how to recruit people who are really good fundraisers.”

In that way, Sutherland was able to build a team of people with a variety of skills, strengthening the team — something she has worked hard to do within the SOS. Sutherland also spent 10 years with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, based in both Parksville (home office) and Nanaimo, as an area, then regional, manager. At the national level, she worked on brand development and training tools for community-based fundraising programs. Provincially, she was responsible for staff in offices located around the province, including training of community-based fundraising staff.

Four years ago, she saw the posting for the SOS executive director position and knew it was time to return. Her experience, knowledge and ability gave her the edge and she was hired.

“The SOS had changed a lot since my first time there. It’s vision and mission remained the same but they had added more programming, as well as the Child, Youth and Family Centre.”

Sutherland leads the SOS in building community partnerships, as more and more groups face the reality of fewer dollars and limited pools of volunteers.

“I believe in the work of the SOS. We have a good team, building those relationships and empowering people to help themselves.”

She hopes others see the SOS in the same light — a local organization that is a community partner, helping fill the social gaps in District 69, continuing the work of so many people who started the SOS in 1968.