Sara Peddle’s passion for helping others has guided her career along unexpected paths.

Originally attracted to law, she studied to be a police officer but chose instead to work at Simcoe Mediation Centre (The Mediation of Simcoe County) as an office manager and information resource counsellor. In that role she helped people dealing with family law matters navigate the provincial court system to find the resources they needed.

It was a rewarding nine years but Sara wanted the opportunity for more direct involvement with others and returned to school at age thirty to pursue studies as a community service and addictions worker. It was a three month co-op placement in that programme that introduced her to the David Busby Street Centre.

“I hadn’t even heard of the Busby centre before that, although I had lived in Barrie most of my life,” Sara says. “But after a few weeks working there as a student volunteer, I fell in love with the centre and its mission.”

Once her placement ended she was hired as a part-time fundraiser and continued to volunteer. She was asked to fill in for six months as a housing counsellor, which then became a full-time position.

In 2009, there was a major management and board change and Sara became interim executive director. After four months she returned to her counselling position. However, eight months later the new executive director left and Sara was asked to fill the position permanently.

Being suddenly at the helm forced her to confront the fundamental reasons behind poverty and homelessness.

“We must overhaul our approach to the problem,” she says, “Not only do we need participation from all levels of society, but we need a change of attitude. We are quick to respond to natural disasters but painfully slow in dealing with slow motion man-made ones like poverty.”

Sara thinks that our society’s narrow focus on economics and jobs actually perpetuates the problem. This is especially true for the working poor because of the trend toward temporary work and part-time jobs without benefits. Many families work multiple jobs to earn enough to pay rent, leaving little left over for adequate food or anything else. The constant rise in food bank use is evidence of this.

“This growing employment trend combined with the lack of affordable housing is socially destructive,” she says. “When housing and jobs are available, many of the other problems disappear.”

Sara believes that all government levels need to be more engaged but that voters haven’t made it a priority because so many feel that they are in economic survival mode themselves.

“What government can do is to support agencies, organizations and individuals who can create affordable housing,” she suggests, “ They could support private landlords to make it attractive to offer affordable housing while offering them more legal protection. There is also competition for government funding among agencies which leads to programmes being tailored to available dollars rather than the other way around.”

To that end, The David Busby Street Centre has been a leader in bringing together twenty- three agencies to create an “integrated model of service”. This umbrella organization would allow maximum use of skills, resources, funding and volunteers by eliminating redundancies and gaps. The Ontario Trillium Foundation is funding the centre, along with CMHA, to support the development of the community hub in Barrie. ‘Barrie Pathways’ has evolved from the original strategy with a view to ultimately becoming a self-sustainable organization. Sara believes that this will be an operational reality within two years.

“What I am proudest of is that since its founding twenty years ago, the Busby Centre has stayed true to its roots,” Sara continues. “It remains a participant driven agency that listens to the needs of its users. Too many organizations compromise their mission to obtain funding. We , as a community, have to trust in the integrity of the organization and rely less on government and more on community support. It’s not sexy, but still appeals to a wide range of donors and volunteers who are becoming leery of fund chasers. I think it is important to move away from competing with the big, popular and well advertised causes out there.”

Sara thinks that is why the Busby centre is a natural trail blazer for the integrated service model. She believes that we need to demythologize social needs and help everyone realize that those in need are not strangers or threats but neighbours, friends and relatives.

“We are all afraid of the unknown,” she says, ‘We invite the public in to learn, while respecting the dignity and privacy of our participants. We want transparency to eliminate misunderstanding. Poverty and homelessness is not shameful – it is a human condition that can afflict anyone. We want to break down barriers by talking about it.”

Sara is inspired by what she has seen other communities accomplish, such as ‘The Bridges’ in Cambridge. She recently heard Frank O’Day, the founder of Second Cup speak. Frank, who was once homeless himself, declared that hope and dreams are necessary but it requires action to change the way things are. Sara sees the Busby Centre as a leader for change in our community.

She walks the talk. Despite her job as executive director, she volunteers as manager of her son’s hockey team in addition to being on the board of directors for Barrie Kempettes Gymnastics, where her daughter is a provincial competitor. She also chairs the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness.

“I believe that Barrie is a caring community and it is my home,” Sara says, “I believe that Barrie deserves to have all of its citizens enjoy a life of dignity. We are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable neighbours. Those of us who are more fortunate can pay it forward.”


Alan Atkins is a writer and volunteer on the Community Relations Advisory Council of the David Busby Street Centre. For more information or to get connected to the Busby Centre, email: or call 739-6916 or If you know of a Community Champion contact Alan directly at or 705-791-1141.


    • Loranna Clauson

      Hello! I have been reading about your organization and would love for you to give a talk about your mission to my service group, Civitan Connect, on Nov. 11th at 8:30pm, online. Yes, we are an online group. I will send more details if someone there is interested and sends me their contact information.
      Thank you!

      • Carla

        Hi Loranna,

        Thank you for your interest! We will send you an email and connect regarding this great idea!

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