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'Our correctional system is broken,' says John Howard Society's new boss

'I am hopeful and I want to have change. I want to be a team with other agencies and to keep John Howard growing,' says Hayley Murdoch-Fyke
Hayley Murdoch-Fyke is the new executive director for the John Howard Society of Simcoe & Muskoka as of January 2023.

Hayley Murdoch-Fyke says she has always known she wanted to help people. 

The 30-year-old former front-line shelter worker, who holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and a double minor in psychology and women’s studies, has officially taken over the role of executive director for the John Howard Society of Simcoe & Muskoka (JHSSM) following the departure of Suzanna McCarthy at the beginning of January.

Murdoch-Fyke said that after getting her degree, she returned to school in the hopes of getting a student placement with JHSSM, an organization she’d set her sights on for quite a while.

“That’s where I knew I wanted to be,” she said, adding halfway through the college program, the organization posted a job in its attendance centre in Orillia 

Murdoch-Fyke worked in that job for three months until taking on a role as an institutional services and community reintegration worker. Within 18 months, she was promoted to a manager’s position running the two Orillia programs as well as the Barrie office.

She says she always knew she wanted to work with people who were incarcerated, noting that desire came when she was young and seeing friends who were often let down by the justice system.

“Growing up, I always had friends who were considered outcasts and who were always getting into trouble," Murdoch-Fyke said. "I saw their home lives and where they were coming from and then I saw a broken system caring for youth.

"Then as they grew up into adults, there were even less services for them,” she added. “Our correctional system is broken, so I wanted to be at a place that advocated for change in that sector. John Howard just fit all of those pieces.”

Although Murdoch-Fyke acknowledges she has made her way up the ranks at the local charitable organization quickly, she believes that will serve her well as she continues to help it grow into the future.

“I am young and I feel like I haven’t been in this social sector for too long where I am pessimistic about what can happen in Barrie," she said. "I am hopeful and I want to have change. I want to be a team with other agencies and to keep John Howard growing. Suzanna (created) such a beautiful foundation for me to keep moving it forward.

"People know who we are now. Clients are walking in our door all day long and with things like the warming centre, now we are really getting our name out there and (letting people know) the services we have.”

Murdoch-Fyke says she knows she has some pretty big shoes to fill left behind by her predecessor, but added McCarthy is only a quick call away if she needs some advice.

“I am definitely a little nervous ... but we’ve developed such a good friendship through our time together so I know my mentoring won’t end just because she’s moving to a different sector," she said. 

Looking to the future, Murdoch-Fyke has her sights set high. She says she’d love to see the organization — which works with people who are in conflict with the law, or at risk of being in trouble with the law — be able to move to a bigger space in order for them to better serve their clients. She would also love to see the creation of a temporary housing project for people exiting provincial incarceration. 

“We see such a loop: They get out, they’re homeless, they go into shelter ...  but because shelter isn’t supposed to be stable then they aren’t stable … and they just keep cycling back and forth. Federal inmates, when they get released, they get halfway houses. They have a landing spot, whereas the (people) getting out of the province don’t,” she said.

“That’s what I would like to see in our long-term goal.”