New Hamburg-based mental health agency looks forward to the future

Interfaith Counselling Centre continues to offer its services during the pandemic as demand remains high.


  • Health   Thu, Oct 8th, 2020   Nigel Gordijk
ICC's interim executive director Matthew Isert Bender: “The need for our services is there, and people are choosing ICC.” (Photo: Hanneke Isert Bender)


ICC's interim executive director Matthew Isert Bender: “The need for our services is there, and people are choosing ICC.” (Photo: Hanneke Isert Bender)


During a challenging time for the community it serves, New Hamburg based Interfaith Counselling Centre (ICC) is cautiously optimistic about the future.

The mental health and wellness agency held its virtual annual general meeting on Sept. 30, with attendees participating via Zoom. Interim executive director Matthew Isert Bender began by saying that the need for ICC’s services among local residents remains strong. The total number of individuals served has stayed high, with more than 1,800 clients in each of the last three years. “The need for our services is there, and people are choosing ICC,” he said.

Most clients don’t cover the full hourly counselling rate, and those are served through a funded program. These subsidized sessions are paid for, either partially or fully, through donations, fundraising and grants. 

Isert Bender said that the Government of Canada and Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation has provided emergency funding, and he’s also thankful to the community. Local businesses, churches, individuals and services clubs “have reached out and filled the gap this year with unsolicited donations to our work.”

“We remained committed in 2019 to provide counselling to all individuals. A big thank you to the generosity of so many in our community to help us maintain our mission,” said Isert Bender.

He also thanked ICC’s staff – “the backbone of our excellence in clinical service and good reputation in the community” – and recognized the contribution of the volunteer board members.

The AGM was an opportunity to bid farewell to former Executive Director Lisa Akey, who left ICC in April 2020. Isert Bender said his appreciation deepened over the past five months as he took over her role.

“ICC was well positioned for 2020 and COVID, thanks to your unending dedication as our leader.”

The agency had planned to go paperless over a 12-month period, but the pandemic forced them to speed up their timeline and go completely digital earlier than expected.

“In one week, we switched to paperless files,” said Isert Bender. “We now have paperless files, and we’re able to offer counselling for individuals, couples and groups through video formats. Our direct hours of counselling are down.”

ICC has also turned to social media to reach out to the community, including the popular “Wellness Wednesday” Facebook videos. 

As health and safety considerations have restricted the ability to host their traditional in-person fundraisers, many have been cancelled, including this spring’s annual silent auction. This has meant coming up with creative solutions to keep funds flowing in, said Isert Bender.

ICC has partnered with Rotary Wilmot for a 2021 calendar fundraiser.

ICC has partnered with Rotary Wilmot for a 2021 calendar fundraiser.

With foreign-travel restrictions, last year’s “Win-a-trip” lottery, organized in partnership with Rotary Wilmot, has been replaced with a 2021 calendar fundraiser. Available from www.iccrotarylottery.com, each calendar comes with a raffle ticket, and draws will be held every Monday throughout 2021. Each winner will receive a gift card for a local business.

Isert Bender is cautiously optimistic about the future, but does see potential challenges ahead.

“We’re in a strong financial position for 2020. The concern is what will happen in 2021, when the mental health need is projected to increase and one-time emergency funding initiatives will likely dry up.”

ICC continues to develop working relationships with other agencies, in particular the Counselling Collaborative of Waterloo Region. Isert Bender thinks that’s one way for smaller organizations to become more effective.

“There’s an ongoing importance of developing our uniqueness, in partnership with other Family Service of Ontario organizations, not in isolation from them,” he said.  “We’re excited to begin strategic planning to dream and envision all that we can be in the coming years as we seek to promote wellness in Wilmot and surrounding communities.”