Action for Healthy Communities (AHC) as a Community Animator in McCauley. AHC is a non-profit organization that supports community development by equipping community members to develop Community Initiatives. Through this process, leadership and capacity amongst community members is developed, leading to initiatives that enhance the overall health of the community.
My role as a Community Animator included working directly with a small group of community members to develop initiatives; serve as a facilitator to connect people with resources and information; and, to foster discussions and dialogues about issues of concern.
The first month of my contract was spent mostly doing research and fact-finding, including meeting with several community members individually as well as Jane Molstad, McCauley’s Revitalization Coordinator. An email list was established as an easy way to send out announcements and gather information. As well, a Facebook page for McCauley Community Animation was created also to disseminate information and act as a discussion forum.
Early in October, myself and two other representatives from AHC met with three community members: Gary Garrison, Wendy Aasen, and Anna Bubel. The purpose of this community dialogue was to identify areas of concern for residents, discuss possible initiatives, and clarify AHC’s role in the process.
One of the first initiatives stemmed from conversations I had with Gary Garrison, who was looking to organize a coffeehouse that would connect artists, writers, poets, and musicians. The challenges were the general organization of the event and finding a suitable space. A preliminary meeting using the Boyle McCauley News office was not successful. However, after connecting community members with Revitalization as well as people involved with the Heart of the City Festival, the first McCauley Connect Coffeehouse was born.
The McCauley Connect Coffeehouse took place on December 4 at McCauley Centre (formerly McCauley School). The evening featured live music performances on a professional sound stage, beautifully decorated tables with a winter theme, and free snacks courtesy of Multicultural Health Brokers. Gary Garrison served as MC. It was a modest start of what will hopefully be more coffeehouses in the future. In fact, two more are scheduled for February 19 and March 19, with the tentative location of the school. The long-term goal is for a permanent facility for artists to mingle over coffee, have live performances, and showcase their work akin to The Carrot on Alberta Avenue.
The other initiative stems from the fact that Church Street was recently designated a historical resource by the City. What better way to celebrate than having a street dance and moveable feast/potluck along 96 Street. Colleen Chapman (BMC News' other Volunteer Coordinator) is organizing this event which is tentatively anticipated to take place in July. She already has several of the major churches on board and a DJ for the dance. If you are interested in helping out, you can contact Colleen care of the paper.
All of the Community Animators with AHC periodically met together as a group. At our final meeting, we discussed what we learned the most personally from our experience as Community Animators. I said that my knowledge was reinforced of how much capacity, ideas, and talent there is in McCauley. I also said that I did my very best to actually listen to what people were telling me and do the best I could to answer people's questions and take seriously their concerns, even if there was nothing I could immediately do about these particular issues or requests. This is the kind of respect McCauley needs from all parties who do consultations and development activities in the community, otherwise it just becomes a top-down, empty exercise.
Being a Community Animator was also a great networking opportunity for my work with Boyle McCauley News. I met Clara Gladue, another Animator in McCauley, who now writes the Aboriginal-themes column Drum Beats. I also met an Animator from the local Salvadoran community who lives in Boyle Street, who may also be interested in contributing to the paper.
My contract ended at the end of December, but obviously the initiatives and discussions that got rolling during my time as Community Animator will continue. I will still occasionally send out notices of news and events via the email list, so if you would like to get on that you can send me your email address at firstname.lastname@example.org. As well, the Facebook page is going to remain online.
I want to thank everyone who took part in the animation process, whether it was providing feedback online, taking part in one of our initiatives, or just providing encouraging words.
Part Two: Seeking McCauley Balance
A dialogue with a community member raised the following questions that she felt had never been addressed as a neighbourhood. These questions were presented online and answers are being gathered and organized for information and interest. If you would like to take part, please send your responses care of the paper to email@example.com.
McCauley needs to strive for balance, especially a balance of the things that are important to people in the area, such as less concentration of social housing, a better spread of demographics, and the improvement of safety issues.
1) What does balance in McCauley look like?
2) What would have to change in order for us to get there? It would be interesting to see the points of agreement and disagreement, and to see what the variance is depending on how long someone has lived here.
3) What is “McCauley normal” (as compared to “normal” for other areas)?
4) There needs to be indicators of positive change and a way keep track of such information. What is the current direction of change in McCauley and is it the change we want?
5) We also need to gather success stories. Can you tell a success story from your McCauley experience?