Eddy Rempel started in the position of Executive Director for MCS in August, 2021. We invited Eddy to share some greetings.
As the newly appointed executive director of Mennonite Community Services, it is a great privilege to join in the work of inviting newcomers into our community. Building on the work of visionaries over almost half a century, Abe Harms built MCS into an organization to advance the programs that help the newest, and often most vulnerable, in our community. Today MCS is equipped to continue the work of providing specialized services, advocating for Plautdietsch-speaking newcomers, and helping other organizations serve newcomers that have arrived in our area.
We are grateful that in these days of COVID restrictions, when our seasonal fundraising events had to be cancelled for 2 seasons, many of you stepped up with gifts of cash, product for the Thrift store, or the purchase of radio ads. Volunteers continue to donate their labour so Thrift Store sales can fund our other programs. I am very proud of our staff who found innovative ways to serve our clients, while overcoming linguistic and technological barriers. And I am glad that federal and provincial funding continued to flow, when our delivery methods had to be modified.
However, the cancellation of two seasons of fundraising events and the closure of the Thrift Store for extended periods, have removed several hundred thousand dollars from our coffers. These funds are critical for the services not covered by government grants.
MCS helped over 2,000 people in our last fiscal year. We helped many families with documentation and accessing health care. We supported people through job losses and job searches. Dozens of women, children, and babies received support in developing English language and life skills, nutrition, and pre- and postnatal care, all the more needed during pandemic restrictions.
In addition, inspiring music and uplifting programs through Radio De Brigj CHPD 105.9FM radio reduced loneliness of listeners. Additionally, staff reached out to support seniors during times of isolation.
As we celebrated Thanksgiving this month with family, we would be remiss to forget what has come to light about tragedies experiences by native children at residential schools. This September 30, we commemorated the first official National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. The orange shirts remind us of the orange shirt that was taken from Phyllis Webstad on the first day of school. We celebrate the opportunities of newcomers that we welcome to our neighbourhoods. And we know that some of these opportunities were built on the heartbreaks of our native peoples.
These were the words pronounced by the Canadian Citizenship official that drew a bright smile from Heinrich Bueckert at his August 23rd virtual citizenship oath ceremony. An eruption of applause followed, as well as the waving of hands from Henry’s wife sitting beside him in the MCS office and from the other official on the screen. There was a sense of relief and excitement. Up to that point in the whole ceremony, Heinrich sat respectfully still, paying close attention to the instructions coming from the screen. Due to COVID-19, in-person ceremonies are suspended, so MCS had offered to help him set up this virtual appointment with citizenship officials. It has been a long journey since April 27, 2019, when Heinrich and his wife Katharina arrived in Canada for the first time.
MCS staff recently sat down and visited with Heinrich and Katharina about what the last two to three years have been like. Their main reason for coming to Canada was financial. Heinrich and Katharina experienced many blessings in the Mennonite village in Durango, Mexico, where they used to live. It was home: where they grew up, where they met, where they married, and where they welcomed six children into their embrace. But finances were tight. They remember the stress of working and working but gaining very little. They couldn’t keep up with their payments. They owned a few head of cattle but the income was insufficient for a growing family. They also felt it was important to ensure their children had opportunity to become Canadian citizens. They realized their children may wish to live and work in Canada at some point. So, in 2018 Heinrich and Katharina began preparing to immigrate to Canada.
As is the case with many Low German families, Heinrich and Katharina had Canadian ancestors. Because of these ties, they had Canadian Citizenship certificates even though they had never been to Canada themselves. During their preparations to move, it became apparent that Heinrich’s document might not be valid. There had been some talk in the village about renewing Citizenships before he turned 28, but nothing had been very clear about whether it applied to him.
Regardless of the uncertainty of Heinrich’s citizenship status, they were willing to take a risk to move for a better future for their children. They hired a driver to drive the family to Ontario. Katharina remembers the difficult adjustment after they arrived. Heinrich’s income from his job on a farm was much higher than in Mexico but so were the expenses.
“People talk about earning thousands of dollars. But they don’t always tell you how expensive everything is,” Katharina says.
And then there were the daily tasks she had to relearn, like going shopping for groceries. She recalls walking into a store and the clerk asking her if she wanted a bag.
She had not understood what they said or known how to respond. It was overwhelming.
It was a great help when they began receiving family benefit payments. Shopping for necessities was also easier once Heinrich got his Ontario Driver’s Licence and they did not have to rely on rides, after MCS staff helped him find a way to translate his Mexican Licence. After a few months, they also moved into a home with cheaper rent which also helped out a lot. They are very grateful to their landlord for the opportunity to move into the house where they are living and all of the people who helped them along the way.
In October 2019, Settlement Staff sat down with Heinrich to discuss his citizenship status. It was hard to hear that his citizenship had indeed expired on his 28th birthday. Staff were able to walk him through the process of applying for a Resumption of Citizenship and Permanent Residence for the youngest children.
During the same fall, their children began attending school.
Katharina also remembers how happy and excited her children had been in November of 2019 when the big yellow school bus picked them up to go to South Ridge Public school.
“The children like it here more than we do, so much better than in Mexico,” she says. “They love going to Sunday School at the Old Colony Mennonite Church.” Sunday School was not available in Mexico and they appreciate that the church in Ontario has something for children. And the children enjoy school so much, they want to stay in Canada.
After the children were approved to become Permanent Residents, MCS staff also helped the family apply for health cards and Social Insurance Numbers so that the older children could work over the summer months. Heinrich enjoys teaching his children to work on the fields. His own position is yearlong, for which he is very grateful.
When asked what kinds of things helped them along the way, Katharina states,
“I don’t know what we would have done without the help of MCS to get to the bottom of all the papers.”
Others have helped too, like community helper Eva Janzen in Perth County and friends in the church. “It has all been such a big help.”
We thank Abe for his twenty-two years of faithful service to the community served by MCS and wish him much happiness, good health, and God’s blessings upon his retirement.
Please join us on Thursday, August 19, 2021.
Guests will be received in their vehicles between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. at the outdoor venue of the Aylmer Thrift Store, 300 Talbot Street West, Aylmer, Ontario. Please enter the parking lot from Wellington Street and follow the directed path of the drive-thru celebration.
COVID safety rules will be followed, including physical distancing, wearing masks, and refraining from gathering beyond the Government of Ontario’s endorsed limit of people. Please note that due to the need for measures of safety in light of COVID, we emphasize the need to attend as a drive-thru, rather than staying on-site in person.
Please tune in (or livestream) De Brigj Radio 105.9FM to hear a live presentation at 5pm, or follow the highlights of the celebration on Facebook.
We asked outgoing Executive Director Abe Harms to reflect on his 22 years of service with MCS. Here are his musings…
My time here at MCS has been a rewarding and rich experience. I have been involved in one way or another from the very beginning and it is with mixed emotions that I leave MCS. I was on the Ontario Immigrant Advisory Committee (OMIAC)* that Bill Janzen, from the MCC Ottawa Office, led.
I always considered George Rempel a good friend who was at the Aylmer MCC office from about 1979 to 1992. I was principal of the Aylmer Bible School that whole time (except for a study leave) George was at the MCC office. We would often have lunch together and he would draw me in wherever he could. He would talk about starting a thrift store and senior’s residence. He convinced me to be co-chair of the Menno Lodge Board and I later became chair when it was built.
George drew others in, like Victor Fast and Mary Boniferro, and the office grew from a one-person staff. In 1987 the Aylmer Resource Centre opened and Victor came and asked me about naming it ARC. Arthur Driedger was parachuted in to incorporate the local thrift store board and all the MCC services under one Board. He tried for 2 years to recruit me to take the Aylmer position. Eventually, I agreed to an interview.
In my interview, David Worth, E.D. of MCCO said “we need a two headed eagle” as E.D. of the Aylmer and Area Inter-Mennonite Community Council (AAIMCC) that oversaw the thrift store and regional manager of the Aylmer MCC office.
My work here began August 3, 1999. Once we had gotten over the millennium bug scare, the first challenge was learning to work with two entities that were to become one. The administrative committee that oversaw the store had no experience as a policy setting board, but MCC provided professional oversight. One of the AAIMCC Board members said: “that was Arthur Driedger’s job description for you, now we will give you ours”. In time, we learned to work together and it has been a pleasure to work with the various Boards. I thank the various members, especially this current Board as we transition over.
It was my first summer here that we started the annual Auction Sale to raise funds for our programs. This has run every year until COVID-19 temporarily shut it down. I was amazed at how frequently the ARC was asked to translate brochures and little messages. I began to answer these requests with “you need to do these orally on a cassette or VHS”. We started to muse about setting up a radio, but MCC wanted to reduce and spin off its programing and not begin more. Finally, a small committee met to get the ball rolling and we were able to persuade AAIMCC to adopt the project and in May of 2003 we got the radio license. It was a good thing I did not know what all is involved in setting up a radio station or else we might not have one.
Every change and development was new and I had no history to fall back on. In 2008 the name changed to Mennonite Community Services (MCS) and both entities were merged into one corporation and one local Board. We had to build the whole new structure from HR to a strategic plan. Overnight MCS grew from having 3 or 4 part-time employees to at least 10 mostly full-time. We found new funding and since then have negotiated all our funding agreements ourselves, made policies and came on our own. This was every bit as hard as I had imagined. I was so glad for Donna Lunn and her contribution.
I have had some very special helpers, mentors and cheerleaders over the years and they have been such a blessing. On one of my first days here, Wendell Graves, Clerk for the Town of Aylmer, came into my office to welcome me. That was one of my most meaningful early experiences. Jerry Hildebrand, on staff for the first year I was here, had such a pastoral heart. Henry Hildebrand was an amazing business man who came from the private sector and worked for us in employment services for 3 years. Mary Boniferro was on staff when I came and she was a good trainer. Her education, expertise and demeanor was so valuable for the first 10 years. John B Wiebe came to us from working at the Ministry of Community and Social services of the Ontario government. His soft spoken confidence was ever so valuable. Even though OMIAC ceased its activities shortly after I came, Bill Janzen remained an avid supporter of the work in Aylmer and to me personally.
I would like to name all current and past staff and say how they have made MCS more valuable, but space restricts me to only name a few. Henry Rempel was the best person to give the radio a footing, he had a wonderful commanding presence. Anita Harms, my wife, was the last person my predecessor hired and she started to manage the FESPA program about a month after I began. She was such a good leader, advisor and co-worker and she is still the best mentor and cheerleader I’ve ever had, 24/7. Anna Bergen was my assistant at the Aylmer Bible School, and when the school closed she went back to college. One of my first actions was to hire her as bookkeeper and FESPA assistant. Up to that point the office did shoebox accounting and Anna brought it up to a gold standard. MCS will continue to be in good hands as Anna is a professional, knowledgeable, caring and loving leader.
I have often wondered what it would be like if I had gone to get my MBA instead of my M.Div. I did not take that many leadership courses but I believe I was blessed with many good examples and I had a positive theological disposition needed at the time. I am not here for myself but for others. I tried to focus on others rather than myself, seeing each person as made in the image of God whom I need to love.
I have lived such a rich life that I could never have afforded on a much bigger salary. I’ve been to at least 20 countries, had Faspa with an Old Colony Vorsänger in Campeche, stayed with an immigrant family in Paraguay, had a tour of a cave in Switzerland where early Anabaptists gathered, and I’ve been introduced in the Ontario legislature.
MCS has changed a lot since it became its own entity. I feel like it is has also become better known in the community. Networking has been so beneficial and it has garnered so much confidence, trust and generosity. Whether it was a sponsorship of a staff member to a conference in Paraguay or a multi-million dollar investment in infrastructure, contacts came through. The apex of community support was when I was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. Individuals, businesses and agencies have been so willing to invest with MCS. It was always my dream for MCS to be big enough and have enough capacity that if governments or churches ever needed any services to be done in the area, MCS would be the agency of choice.
I think there is a bright future for MCS and I have a dream that it will be even more of a storehouse of information. That we have print and audio resources to share. To partner with academic institutions such as Fanshawe College and Steinbach Bible College so that if people want academic courses it would be possible. If churches or partnering agencies want seminars on a wide range of topics, MCS would be first and last place to look in order to find it. That MCS would be resourced enough to have staff to attend community meetings and participate in projects to help shape community. That MCS would be in a position to offer more programs and have the capacity to apply for the various grants available, big or small.
Overall, the last 22 years have been an enriching and rewarding experience. I trust that Eddy Rempel will receive as much advice and support as I did and that MCS will continue to grow and prosper as it helps to settle and integrate newcomers and participate in growing a more dynamic and invigorating society.
*For more on OMIAC, see Build Up One Another, by William Janzen, MCCO, 1998, especially pg 6.
Join us for the public Retirement Celebration for Abe Harms
Thursday, August 19, 2021
300 Talbot St. W., Aylmer, ON (Aylmer Thrift Store parking lot)
3pm-5pm: Drive-Thru to give your well-wishes to Abe (COVID friendly version of an open house!)
Henry Heide had worked for many years as a mechanic in the Aylmer area. While he had the hands-on skills and knowledge necessary to work as a mechanic, he did not meet the educational requirements to become licensed. After some encouragement from his boss’s wife, Linda Loewen, he decided that he wanted to pursue getting his license as a Diesel Mechanic. At the time, he did not know everything that would be involved in that process, but a starting place was to work towards his GED/Grade 12.
Linda steered Henry to a Fanshawe College academic upgrading night class, where he met MCS Employment Services Manager, Susan Loewen. Susan also works as a Fanshawe Instructor for these upgrading classes and was Henry’s instructor. Starting in Spring of 2017, Henry diligently worked on upgrading his reading, writing and math skills and began exploring the process that would lead him to being able to write the mechanic apprenticeship exam.
In most instances, to be registered as a Mechanic Apprentice and begin the licensing process, an individual is required to have a Grade 12 or GED level of education. Henry had some schooling, but had not gone to school consistently every year when he was younger, and had ended his formal schooling in the middle of Grade 8 at a private school in Dresden.
Henry was now busy with work and with being a husband and father of three boys, but he was determined that being a licensed mechanic was his career of choice.
With Susan’s help as an MCS employment consultant, Henry learned that, because of his work experience, he could “challenge,” or write, the mechanic apprenticeship exam without going through 4 years of apprenticeship. This would help Henry demonstrate his skills and abilities to obtain his license while saving him years of time and money.
Susan walked alongside Henry in the process of challenging the exam, helping him prepare the in-depth resume required for the application, with confirmation from previous employers of hours of work completed in the field. She also helped him complete the online application for the exam. Because Susan can provide services in Low German, she was able to help explain some mechanical and technical terms, helping Henry match up terms with the knowledge he already had, so that he could write the exam for the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
Henry made 3 attempts at the challenge exam, but did not pass each time. Susan helped him research different colleges, and he decided to enroll in a preparation course at the Ontario College of Trades that was specific to writing and passing the exam for the Diesel Mechanic. Henry completed the course and wrote the challenge exam again.
On his fourth attempt, he passed the Certificate of Qualifications exam on July 17, 2018!
With his hard-earned certification, Henry was now able to obtain work as a fully licensed Diesel Mechanic. After working for other mechanic shops, Henry and his family decided that it was time for him to open his own shop. Henry he is now the owner operator of Heide Truck Services in Aylmer, running out of 40 Beech St. His wife Anna, who recently worked for MCS in the FESPA program, is taking on the role of administrative assistant and bookkeeper with a sister-in-law, Tina Heide.
Henry is an inspiration to those who might feel that they are not able to accomplish their dreams. He overcame challenges and fears but his determination and vision did not diminish and he can now be a leader and mentor to others. When asked what pushed him towards making his license, Henry says, “When your wife asks you what your dream is every single day, eventually you figure out that you have a dream.” With encouragement and access to community services, Henry’s dream of becoming a licensed Diesel Mechanic came to fruition.
Many newcomers have career aspirations that, when surrounded by a community of support and connected to the right services, they are able to achieve!
AYLMER, ON – The Mennonite Community Services Board of Directors is pleased to announce the appointment of Eddy Rempel to the position of Executive Director, effective August 2, 2021. Rempel is no stranger in the community, having spent most of his life in Aylmer. He is owner of Rempel Properties, founder of Mennonite Heritage Tours, and a volunteer with local churches and charities.
The MCS Board is confident that Rempel has the right qualities, skills, and passion to lead MCS as it continues to grow.
Rempel is passionate about creating a welcoming community for all newcomers arriving annually, many of whom support the flourishing agriculture industry and small business sectors in Elgin County. He is especially committed to helping ‘his people’, the Plautdietsch speaking Mennonites, who have been settling in the area since the 1950s.
An engaging storyteller, Rempel was chosen to represent Talbot Trail Toastmasters in regional speech contests five times. Toastmasters is dedicated to developing speaking skills and leadership. He was a significant driver behind the 2002 production of Mennonite: Faith or Tradition?, a community stage production about the intersection of belief and convention among Mennonites. He was one of the contributing historians for the script and a producer.
As a dedicated supporter of MCS, Rempel has distinguished himself as an avid networker and connector of individuals and groups. He has served as consultant, board chair, and presenter at various community events.
Rempel obtained a Bachelor of Religious Studies from Steinbach Bible College, a Bachelor of Mathematics from the University of Waterloo, a Master of Science in Statistics from McMaster University, and is completing a Master of Sociology at Western University focusing on immigration to rural Canada.
Eddy Rempel replaces Abe Harms, who retires in August following 22 years of dedicated service. A public retirement celebration is planned for August 19, 2021 at the MCS Plaza located at 300 Talbot Street West in Aylmer.
On behalf of all MCS staff, we congratulate and welcome Eddy Rempel to the role of Executive Director.