Claudette Everitt still remembers the day when the North Okanagan’s entrepreneurial and business landscape changed for good.
While serving as the first female president and later executive director of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, Everitt received an envelope at the chamber’s offices, then located in the old Watson House on Highway 97.
In the days before emails, the contents included information about a new federal program that aimed to develop investment funds and create new jobs in the community.
Little did Everitt know then that the envelope would contain the very beginnings of what is now known as Community Futures North Okanagan.
Predicting the Future
Everitt has spent the last 40-plus years setting up federally funded programs that have helped everyone from indigenous youth to female entrepreneurs.
In 1978, after moving to Vernon from Grande Prairie, Alta., she received contracts with Vernon agencies such as Vernon and District Association for Community Living’s Venture Training, the John Howard Society, and the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
“I found I could talk to politicians because I was not one myself,” Everitt said.
While serving as the Vernon Chamber president, Everitt helped gather like-minded community members and organizations to develop a proposal to start a not-for-profit corporation called the Okanagan North Community Futures Corporation.
Working in partnership with the North Okanagan Development Corporation, Community Futures’ focus was on community economic development activities to help people find employment. At the same time, start-up business loans were made available through the Business Development Centre.
“After I heard about the federal program, I knew we would have to organize a place where clients could access all the different resources they needed to get started under one umbrella organization,” Everitt said. “If we wanted to be fully operational, we also needed a strong community board with people that knew the community and that people respected. We were able to get people like (Queen’s Counsel and well-known Vernon lawyer) Paul Nixon to join the board.”
Around that time, Everitt and fellow Community Futures board members and then executive director Jane Lister (now regional dean of Okanagan College) set out to find a new building that would house staff and allow people to attend workshops and access programs in one location.
“People from as far as Lumby and Armstrong started coming to us, and we were renting office space all over town to serve them. We wanted a place where they could come and access all of our services,” says Everitt.
In 1996, the North Okanagan Development Corporation purchased new premises at the corner of 33rd Street and 32nd Avenue in Vernon to house all of Community Futures North Okanagan’s programs.
“We were able to grow from there with our self-employment and loan programs. We also had many people working as volunteers, and many of them would come up with great ideas,” says Everitt.
One of Everitt’s proudest moments as chairperson came in 2000 when Community Futures North Okanagan achieved its ISO 9001 Certification, an international standard for quality management that demonstrates the ability to provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements consistently.
“No one else in Canada had achieved it before,” she said. “It took an incredible team to get to that point. It just proved that our staff was top-notch people.”
Committed to Community
Over the years, Everitt has served on numerous boards and committees both locally and nationally.
Her work in helping women attain a more significant leadership role in the business world was recognized when she was named as Woman of the Year by Vernon Women in Business in 1990.
In 2002, Everitt was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for her long-standing commitment to making her community more vital. In 2015, she was recognized with the national Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award.
“I have always volunteered and have tried to do what I can at my own capacity,” Everitt said. “It’s important to see programming go through. I have been happy to see how our community has evolved and adapted to technology and innovation. Community Futures has been a huge part of that.”
Adds Leigha Horsfield, executive director, Community Futures North Okanagan: “The Community Futures North Okanagan board of directors, management, and staff would like to extend our deep gratitude and appreciation for Claudette’s vision and years of volunteerism. She has been an integral part of our organization since the very beginning, and we are grateful for her contributions as one of our founding members.”