Many different organizations weave together to create the social safety net and when people find themselves in need, help often comes from more than one of these groups. Today, in Dufferin County, people can find all the help they need in one place. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of Wilhelm and Margarete Edelbrock and the forward thinking of Dufferin County Community Services and the Dufferin County Council the major social services are all under one roof.
“The W&M Edelbrock Centre is a showpiece,” said Laura Ryan, Warden of Dufferin County. “It’s a model of how the different community services can be delivered effectively and efficiently.” The building housing the centre was a grocery store at one time, and a bowling alley, but when the Edelbrocks donated it and the land around it to the county, it became a focus for the most vulnerable in the community and for the people who can help them. “We are very pleased with the way Keith has designed the building in terms of different tenants and different spaces is very efficient,” said Warden Ryan. “And with all the services under one roof, it becomes ‘one stop shopping’ that benefits everyone involved.”
Keith Palmer is Director of Community Services for the County of Dufferin. He and Michael Giles, Chief Building Official for the county worked together on the layout of the W&M Edelbrock Centre. When Mr. Palmer shows people around, he’s like a proud father. He points to the great number of windows for natural light and how the glass at the tops of walls and transoms help carry that light into the centre of the building. He explains how the large open reception area is welcoming. From here people are guided to the services they need but in addition, the room has computer stations for self-directed job searches, with employment counseling close at hand.
Walking through the wide hallways – for openness and wheelchair access – Mr. Palmer explains that administration offices are central in the building with the services offices around them. “That way administrators are close by when they are needed,” he said. The layout also means that when people who need more than one service – social assistance and assisted housing, for instance – they can quickly move from one office to another rather than going to another building, perhaps in another part of town.
Young parents attending an alternative education program, for instance, or visiting other services can temporarily leave a toddler in the Ontario Early Years Centre. “Navigating the system becomes much easier,” said Mr. Palmer. “People feel more like they’re getting the help they need, not shuffled around. It makes for a much better customer experience. Our goal is to give our clientele a warm hand up.”
Of course there are great efficiencies for the different agencies, as well. All under one roof, instead of separate offices, they can share services such as a boardroom and other smaller meeting rooms, fax and photocopier, computer and Internet services, and the Ontario TeleNetwork. Meeting rooms are also available for other community groups when they need to get together.
Outside, there’s a community garden, a school portable converted into a meeting place for the Army Cadets, with a parking lot/parade square right out its door. At the moment, however, the parking lot is nearly full and a young mother with a toddler in a stroller is waiting for the bus. The W&M Edelbrock Centre is a busy place. ” We are striving to achieve a comfortable community atmosphere,” said Warden Ryan. “A place where anyone can come to get some help for their problems, a place where they feel comfortable connecting and a safe place that makes them feel at home.”