Local Focus: Sherry Hayes on being a Toronto transplant, a local activist and devoted mom.

The Sharon White Team sat down with Sherry Hayes earlier in August to talk about her life in our town.  Sherry describes herself as someone who is trying to evolve but not take herself too seriously at the same time. She works in Not-for-Profits and strives for balance in all things. She loves Bancroft and North Hastings and says there is nowhere else she would rather be than right here, right now!  She is currently enjoying  a peaceful existence with her 21 year daughter on the York River.

Tell us about yourself, Sherry, and about why you chose to move to Bancroft!

My name is Sherry Hayes. I moved to this area in September of 2001. I was living in Toronto where I had been for many years but I grew up in small, rural communities in Ontario and wanted to get back to that. I had a young daughter and knew that if I was going to make the move it needed to be soon rather than later. I had cottaged and camped in this area and really loved the landscapes, and the small community feel.  So I started to apply for jobs and made some connections.  Friends in the area helped me find postings.  I applied for one with North Hastings Children Services for the position of Executive Director and was offered the position.   I was really excited.  So my partner and I had to sit down and really seriously ask ourselves:

Did we really want to make this move? Or were we really looking for a cottage? 

So, we were soul searching and eventually decided that - no, we wanted to do this.  We were going to try it for 2 years and we could always go back to Toronto if we wanted.  That was 14 years ago.  

What was the process like in terms of finding a place to live?

Once we made the decision to move here, we needed to find somewhere to live.  So, we started to look online initially and found some properties that we were really interested in.

We didn’t know the area that well but that’s where the help of a real estate agent became invaluable.

So we connected with an agent here and then made some appointments to view some properties. We ended up buying a place that we fell in love with online and that was 70 year old farm house with 3 acres of land in MacArthur's Mills.  There's a little energy hamlet called Hermon where my daughter went to school .  It's a lovely, lovely little public school.  And that's where we settled.

It was a long commute to town but we compared it to our commute in Toronto and that was crazy.  It was stressful and it was unpleasant.  

The commute from MacArthur's Mills to Bancroft was absolutely energizing and just so beautiful, you know?  I would rarely see more than five cars on my drive to work but would likely see many deer, owls and all kind of fabulous wildlife. And so I just couldn’t compare the two commutes.  

So we settled in and really loved it out there.  We were surrounded by wild land and lakes and it was perfect for us.  But our first month was still a stressful one:  Brand new job, brand new community.  I started my job September 4th, 2001 and then 9/11 happened.  I was in a meeting with a colleague in Belleville. My partner was in Toronto. My daughter was in at the Hermon school and I just remember that sense of, "oh my goodness!"  I just wanted my family together in those moments of so much fear and uncertainty.   Where we were living, there was no TV services at all.   Maybe I am lucky.  I don't have the images of 9/11 that most people have in my brain and maybe that's a good thing.   Things improved when my partner eventually got work up here and we were able to start being more connected to the land and water.  We planted this huge garden and we learned quickly that they need to be fenced in or everything we grew would be eaten.  Our second garden did much better!

Tell us about how you found the professional transition?

I was really excited about my job working as the Executive Director at North Hastings Children's Services.  That was a new area for me in that I hadn’t worked with children and families. My experience working in Toronto was mostly in emergency housing for women and children, emergency shelters and also some shelters for single women. So I worked a lot with adults with mental health issues, with addiction issues and abused women and their children.   I was actually really looking forward to getting out of such crisis-oriented work.  It was such valuable work.  I learned so much about myself.  But it takes a toll.  Caregiver fatigue is very real and it was time for me to have a change to something less crisis-oriented. So I moved into this role with a lot of positive anticipation and I enjoyed connecting to the community. 

When I first arrived, my goal was to engage and connect to the community.   That’s work I really love.

It was different than working in a large city for sure.  Everybody knew everybody.  I knew no one. There was just whole history that people would have about each other.  It is really easy for the boundary lines to get really, really fuzzy and I walked in with very rigid boundaries from my work in the city.   These were a luxury.  I soon realized that I needed to adapt to being more flexible. It doesn’t mean that boundaries aren’t maintained.   I think I was able to offer the value of very good boundaries and, at the same time, I learned from the staff that sometimes you need to shift your boundaries a little.  You need to soften them, you need to be OK with being in the grocery store on a Friday night, doing grocery shopping and somebody hands you to a cheque to pay their child care fees.  These things happen.   What are you supposed to do? Say, "Sorry, I am not at the office right now, come back on Monday?" No way.  

Eventually, you decided to run for public office with the New Democrat Party in 2011.  Tell us about that!

I have always been interested in politics but actually running for office wasn’t something that really ever crossed my mind. I had gained some interest in municipal politics through my work but not really anything serious. A close friend of mine worked as a paid staff member for the  NDP and they approached me asking if I would consider running.

She and the Secretary of the Party thought perhaps I could offer something to the Party in this area. So after my chin hit my chest, I said to her "I won’t say NO but I really need to think about this." Obviously it’s a huge commitment. I knew absolutely nothing about running for political office. At the end of the day, I decided that it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  

I just believe that if life presents opportunities, you should take them.  I want to experience life to the fullest. I want to experience everything I can, I want to learn everything.  

So, I said "OK, I'll do it!"  I worked full-time during the campaign and I only took the last two weeks of the campaign off.  So, it was grueling but it was amazing in so many ways.  I loved meeting new people and I loved talking to people and hearing their concerns.  

I traveled throughout the riding - which runs south of Whitney all the way down  to Prince Edward County.  So I got to really experience the area and see places that I hadn’t known before, like Prince Edward County.  The diversity of this riding is incredible.  Whether  its socioeconomic situations, political views, family situations.   It's just so, so diverse. 

Though I lost the election in the riding and I am certainly not a supporter of the Conservative Party, I have to say that Todd Smith has been great. He is a great guy. He works hard, he advocates, he cares.  

Moving to this area was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have developed some incredible friendships, have a strong sense of community and continue to be in awe of the natural beauty of the area on a daily basis.