If you’re a local resident concerned about homelessness in Haliburton County, a business owner wondering how improved transportation options could bolster the region’s dwindling workforce, or a waterfront property owner worried about the long-term health of your lake, U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research wants to hear from you.

Since launching in 1999, the organization has facilitated hundreds of research projects in the Highlands between area residents, organizations and student researchers from Trent University and Fleming College. It’s all about helping to provide insight and information on various social, cultural, environmental and economic issues facing the community.

Earlier this month, U-Links put out a call to the community seeking ideas for future projects.

“We’ll do this once a year, typically, connecting with our community to try and find out what they want to know. If the community says ‘I want answers to A, B and C’, we’ll do our best to go away and make it happen,” said Daniela Pagliaro, logistics coordinator with U-Links.

Once a project has been formulated, U-Links staff post details to its website and reaches out to contacts at Trent and Fleming to see if there are any students interested in taking them on.

It isn’t as simple as finding someone, though. There is an extensive application process, Pagliaro said, that’s designed to find “a perfect match” between student and project.

“Because these projects are so important to us, we want to make sure that the student we’re trusting to take it on is committed and understands exactly what’s expected of them,” Pagliaro said. “We want the projects to be good so that they benefit our community.”

At the end of each school year, U-Links hosts a celebration of research, where students have the opportunity to present their work to the community. At the most recent event, held virtually in March, U-Links featured 18 completed projects.

Among them was a report on food waste reduction strategies for Dysart et al, benthic assessments of more than a dozen area lakes and a study of existing supports for people with eating disorders in rural communities.

Pagliaro noted around 80 per cent of the projects U-Links has on its books are environmentally focused, but that isn’t by design.

“We would love to see more sociocultural projects come our way… We would absolutely welcome a project, for example, that looks at housing and homelessness in Haliburton County. That would be a perfect fit for the issues we’re presently seeing, and for connections we have,” Pagliaro said.

Other non-environmental projects U-Links is looking to move forward include delving into the history of the old Mountain Street Red Cross Outpost (now the CanoeFM building), the viability of a virtual adaptation of Abbey Gardens’ on-site Sprouts to Snacks program, and a programming evaluation assessment for the Abbey Retreat Centre.

The organization is asking that people reach out with project ideas by mid-August, to give staff enough time to finalize things and get in touch with schools. For more information, contact Sadie Fischer at environment@ ulinks.ca, or call the office at 705-286-2411.