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Sara celebrates five years at the helm of HSH

Message from the Executive Director

Sara Cumming, PhD

July 2 marked my fifth anniversary at Home Suite Hope, four years, and four months of which I have had the privilege and honour of serving as the Executive Director of this organization.

I am deeply proud of the work accomplished in the past five years. The organization has experienced a massive transformation in many ways—the impactfulness of the programming we offer, the number and depth of partnerships within the community and corporates, the increase in the number of donors, in-kind contributions, and volunteers to the growth and engagement of both staff and the Board. We have done a lot of hard work on equity, diversity and inclusivity and have undergone an abundance of training as staff on everything from inclusive practices to impactful leadership and trauma-informed approaches—not just with the clients but also lending the lens to ourselves as the staff at the frontlines of this type of work.

Over the past five years, several Board members have worked with us to ensure that our compensation was much better in line with other not-for-profits across Halton. In January, we officially became living wage employers. We also implemented several changes to decrease staff burnout and increase self-chosen training opportunities.

Thank you to Leena Sharma-Seth’s team at Mending the Chasm for all our EDI training, Janice Moro and I and I Health and Wellness for all the work on trauma-informed workspaces and places. I am grateful to Sharon Richardson, France Fournier, Barrie Carlyle, and HR committee member Rebecca Sprague for all the work on compensation packages, vacation, and sick day policies.

Being at the head of the organization means that I have the privilege of leading amazing women—both staff and participants—as they all work towards new goals and opportunities. While the participants made amazing strides in their lives, so did many of our team who moved on to the next stages of their careers. Staff turnovers are hard for small organizations, but they were especially hard because we built this iteration of Home Suite Hope together through all the financial challenges and a worldwide pandemic to get it where it is today! I will always be deeply thankful for all that Leah Burton-Saliba, Sarah Gillen and Krystal Valencia have done for this organization.

On that note, I also want to express my deepest gratitude to Catherine Villasenor, Nikkian Hanson, Angela Blackburn and Izabel Rader, who have stayed with me. Many of you have heard me thank Catherine and Nikkian publicly many times, as they are the managers who make the magic happen.

Still, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the backbone of our office—Angela—who takes care of all the small (and not-so-small) details in the background as well as all our social media so that we can focus on the clients , and Izabel—who we affectionately refer to as the money of the organization.

Izabel is the longest-standing staff member at Home Suite Hope, acting as our bookkeeper for much longer than most of us have even known about this organization. These two women are incredible, kind and dedicated to our participants and our organization.

Ms. Katelyn Zaoral is the dazzle behind our events and has been a fantastic addition to our team for the past 18 months.

I am also excited to welcome three new staff members this year, Temisha Jacques, Sasha McCartney and Haley Weber.

The leadership team at Sheridan College deserves recognition because they have wholeheartedly supported me in these dual roles and have repeatedly come to the table to help the participants in many ways. To my dear friend and colleague Dr. Jessica Pulis for continually jumping in to lend a hand, whether to conduct research or to mentor a participant, you have become part of the HSH team by proxy. I also want to thank Britta Martini-Miles, without whom none of this would be possible. In true Britta style, Britta somehow maneuvered me into the position of ED without me even realizing it was happening. While I am thankful to all my Board members, I am particularly indebted to Blake Hampton-Davies for offering me invaluable support and wisdom as I navigate this new space. Everyone needs a mentor who can hype them up when they don’t fully recognize their abilities and offer constructive criticism when warranted. I have grown in my role due mainly to having such a supportive Board, but I have also grown as a person thanks to Blake’s mentorship.

I never imagined moving into the not-for-profit world, never mind stewarding an organization through an actual pandemic and now an impossible housing crisis. This past year has been challenging in so many ways—gas, groceries and rental prices have increased to levels that cannot be managed by our most vulnerable populations, not even after we offer our many financial supports. In many ways, the next couple of years may prove even more challenging than the past five as we work to develop innovative solutions to housing our homeless and precariously housed single mother-led families.

Out of the many things I have learned in this role, the one that sticks with me in times like this is that intelligent, innovative, and collaborative organizations and individuals surround this organization. We will find a way forward here so that Home Suite Hope and its vulnerable participants can permanently change their lives for the better.

For this special fifth anniversary, if I may be so bold as to ask each of you for a gift—please keep learning about the affordable housing crisis and what that means for our most vulnerable community members. Follow (and donate to) our current Flight For Hope fundraiser (insert) and purchase tickets to our Home For Good Gala when released to learn more about the particular challenges of Home Suite Hope. Become part of the solution to stopping generational patterns of poverty.

Looking forward to seeing what we can build together over the coming years.



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