OUR TOWN: Earnie Harding is Smithers’ silent hero

Earnie Harding is a silent hero in the community of Smithers, as a long time activist for people with disabilities.

Amara Janssens

Smithers/Interior News

Earnie Harding is a silent hero in the community of Smithers, as a long time activist for people with disabilities.

His passion for helping people with disabilities is a personal story as the couple has a daughter and granddaughter with special needs.

When their daughter was born in the 1960s, the support services available in Smithers were non existent, Harding explained.

Decades later, not much had changed when their granddaughter was born.

In an effort to help the local situation, Harding opened the recycling centre 10 years ago, which employs seven individuals with disabilities.

He said he first started the recycling centre as a way to fundraise for people with disabilities but quickly saw the need for recycling in the community.

As demand increased, Harding acquired the Bulkley Valley Bottle Depot and employed an additional six people with disabilities.

Just like the recycling centre, this initiative was to provide employment as well as programs and housing initiatives for people with disabilities.

Through offering employment, Harding said it works to integrate people with special needs in the community.

“How productive these people can be with a little support,” Harding said.

Harding has also opened the High Road Services Society, which works to support individuals no matter what their disability.

The society works to provide employment opportunities, as well as teaches life skills such as cooking. Living support programs are also part of program, including semi-independent living, adult residential and home share.

Three additional social enterprises, which also employ people with developmental disabilities, have spurred off the society. Innovation Foods, Alpine Peak Water and High Roads Meats, whose profits are all donated back to the High Road Services Society.

Innovation Foods is similar to a grocery store, but is geared toward providing low-income, high-need people and families with pre-cooked meals at a discount price.

“Twenty five to 30 per cent of our business is seniors,” Leeann Herrington, coordinator of Innovation Food explained, saying it works out to about 30-40 seniors using this service.

The meals are prepared by people at the High Roads Services Society, who not only get paid to make the meals, but are able to make them for themselves too.

Harding explained that those who commit a minimum of 10 hours per month, receive $100 each month of extra income.

Prior to starting the recycling centre, bottle depot and High Roads Services Society, Harding and his wife Gayle coordinated the Special Olympics program for Smithers for 15 years.

Additionally in 2002, Harding helped with the funding of the Northern BC Winter Games.

Although Harding has passed the torch of coordinating the Special Olympics, he continues to spend his retirement running three local businesses which work to improve the lives of those living with disabilities.