St. Catharines:  Creating a City-Wide Movement of Compassion

Posted on July 3, 2018
By Sylvia Cheuy

people talking and engaging togetherSt. Catharines Ontario is championing a movement to make their city one where all residents have an opportunity – and responsibility – to make their community vibrant, prosperous and compassionate. 

Walter Sendzik, Mayor of St. Catharines is a driving force behind his city’s initiative. Compassion, he says is “a philosophy of care plus action” which is brought to life through the day-to-day actions of organizations as well as residents of all ages. This focused effort to intentionally foster a culture of compassion is the first ever city-wide effort of its kind in Canada.

Mayor Sendzik’s idea for the Compassionate City Initiative was inspired by meetings and conversations with the community as well as from attending Tamarack’s poverty reduction conferences. Compassion, he believes, begins as a lens through which you look at your community. It’s a choice to consider the situations you observe daily from a place of caring rather than simply indifference, frustration, anger or blame. He describes a compassionate city as “one in which no one is left behind, no one is standing outside of the circle. We’re all inside the circle, no one’s invisible, we see everybody, it’s about the wealth of our community being defined by the health and well-being of everybody.” The initiative also focuses on policies where the city can have a direct impact, especially transit and affordable housing.

The St. Catharines Compassionate City Initiative features three inter-related areas of focus:

  • An Invitation to Sign the Compassionate STC Charter – This is an endorsement, a call to action and an opportunity to join part of the growing movement of residents and organizations who have pledged their support to make the city’s commitment to compassion a realty. Some ideas for how people can put care into action include:
    • Shopping and eating locally
    • Promoting favourite local businesses
    • Coaching, mentoring and/or volunteering; and
    • Becoming involved on neighbourhood committees or contributing to other local events
  • Profiles of Compassion in Action – The profiling of Compassion in Action begins by outlining several of the ways the municipality is committed to “walking its talk.” This includes: an emphasis on training and development for city staff that raises their awareness, understanding and effectiveness in acting with compassion; significant commitments to enhance public transit and affordable housing.
  • A Place to Share Stories of Compassion – Here you will find inspiring stories from residents of all ages sharing how they have taken up the challenge of “care plus action” and are contributing to bring the spirit of St Catharines Compassionate City Initiative to life.

Steve Boese, a St. Catharines resident and champion of the Compassionate City initiative, believes that compassion can be shown in little ways, “saying hello, hold the door for someone; including someone into your group” together these small things can make a big difference. Another community champion, Jessica Potts, puts it this way, “I hope this project is met with open minds and hearts and encourages everyone to think about how compassion has touched them, and how we can all be more inclusive and supportive in our day-to-day lives and interactions. Just a smile and a hello can make a difference.”



Sylvia Cheuy, Poverty Reduction, Community Change, Community Development

Sylvia Cheuy

By Sylvia Cheuy

Sylvia is a Consulting Director of the Tamarack Institute’s Collective Impact Idea Area and also supports Tamarack’s Community Engagement Idea Area. She is passionate about community change and what becomes possible when residents and various sector leaders share an aspirational vision for their future. Sylvia believes that when the assets of residents and community are recognized and connected they become powerful drivers of community change. Sylvia is an internationally recognized community-builder and trainer. Over the past five years, much of Sylvia’s work has focused on building awareness and capacity in the areas of Collective Impact and Community Engagement throughout North America.

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