“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” said anthropologist Margaret Mead. City Harvest Community Services Association embodies this.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF CHCSA
Since its establishment in March 1996, City Harvest Community Services Association has been serving people of all races, backgrounds and religions through eight different arms, catering to the underprivileged in society. A member of the National Council of Social Services, CHCSA is part of the Institute of Public Character and an ISO 9001:2000 certified organization.
Run by Darryl Loh, 29, along with eight full-time staff, CHCSA provided 19,196 services to 14,227 different individuals in 2009. Out of these, 6,369 were assisted on a regular basis.
The association reaches out to groups of people in society that are under-served for, including special needs individuals, abandoned or neglected elderly persons, financially needy families and children, youth at risk, individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis, terminally ill or HIV-positive patients, as well as ex-inmates.
With the whole of Singapore as its potential client base, CHCSA has collaborated with several government and health bodies as well as other religious groups to meet the needs of the community as efficiently as possible.
Take for instance, CHCSA’s blood donation drives. Since 2000, CHCSA has participated in the annual Joo Chiat Blood Donation Drive, jointly organized by Joo Chiat Citizens’ Consultative Committee, Joo Chiat Civil Defence Executive Committee, the Health Science Authority of Singapore and The Red Cross Society of Singapore. More than 13,400 donors have participated in these drives.
In more recent times, CHCSA has co-organized blood mobile exercises with institutes of differing faiths to foster communication and understanding, while contributing positively to the community. Last month on April 17, CHCSA was part of a tripartite collaboration with the Assayafaah Mosque and Jelutong Community Club, where people from different walks of lives streamed into the mosque to donate blood, facilitated by CHCSA.
Another partnered venture that CHCSA is involved in is with Ooosh! Hair Academy, a fashionable hair salon that doubles as an academy where youth at risk can acquire hairstyling skills to help set them on a career path. CHCSA’s role is to conduct job-readiness workshops to impart life skills and provide mentorship.
Events include programs with schools such as Mayflower Secondary, where activities are aimed at building stronger teacher-student bonds to facilitate a conducive learning environment. Another school program was OLE@Ngee Ann Secondary where students joined forces with senior citizens from CHCSA’s Community Outreach Program for the Elderly outreach and broke a national record by having the most number of people making paper lanterns. Out of the 370 students involved, many described the experience as meaningful and enriching, resulting in an increase appreciation toward the elderly.
COPE has been working hand-in-hand with the South East Community Development Council since 1999, making a difference in various housing estates in the Mountbatten and Potong Pasir constituencies, reaching out to close to 1,000 senior citizens.
“COPE is an initiative that was started to befriend the elderly, to raise awareness of elderly healthcare issues, to provide assistance to the elderly in cleaning their homes, to provide medical escort and grocery shopping assistance, as well as to organize outings for the elderly,” said COPE’s program manager, Irene Ho, highlighting its purpose and vision. Volunteers and staff carry out home and hospital visits, meals and groceries delivery, and organize monthly community events to encourage socializing and interaction among elder citizens.
Events organized are not run-of-the-mill. These include excursions to places of interest in Singapore such as the Singapore Flyer, Night Safari and a religious harmony tour, where the elderly visited a Buddhist temple, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Protestant church. This year, in honor of Mother’s Day, COPE organized a special Mrs Classic Queen beauty pageant during a luncheon setting for all its clients.
Throughout the year, volunteers of CHCSA visit elderly folk living by themselves, to help them clean up their homes and clear out clutter which might pose safety hazards to these residents who are alone in their twilight years.
CHCSA acknowledges that connecting with other community organizations in Singapore creates a synergy from which the community stands to benefit, citing the example of a recent tie-up with Thomson Medical Centre, a leading healthcare provider for women and children, where COPE beneficiaries received free AH1N1 vaccination as part of TMC’s CSR initiative.
As it continues to grow, CHCSA remains a lean organization to reduce operating costs and to channel as much funds as possible to beneficiaries, so more people can be helped. In many social service organizations, high burn-out rate within the human resource department is one of the key problems faced. “When the economy plunged and many in the workforce got retrenched, many switch career paths and joined community service agencies. Yet, without a genuine compassion and a real passion for the work we do here, it’s difficult for a person to remain in this line of work,” stresses Loh.
Incidentally, Loh herself interned at CHCSA when she was just an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, studying for her degree in social work and psychology. Said Loh, “I joined CHCSA because of the impact it had on my life during the internship. I witnessed the tirelessness of the staff and volunteers born out of true compassion, and decided that this is where I want to be.”
Upon her graduation in 2003, Loh sent out her first and only resume in her working life so far—to CHCSA. “And now, I see it as my role to inspire my staff to have the same genuine love for the community,” adds the soft-spoken mother of a 9-month old girl.
As a beacon of light shining in the community, CHCSA remains resilient in its efforts to bring about a positive change in the community, one life at a time.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Chua, Elizabeth Tan, Valerie Lim, Lau Ber-Nard, Yeo Zhi-Qi.