“There is no way to community; community is the way.”
These were among the words that greeted me on the first morning of ABCD Healthy Neighbourhoods Healthy Cities in Edmonton in May 2019. From the very first keynote speaker, Prof. John McKnight, to the last words spoken on the third day, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough. Often when attending conferences and seminars, I walk away with new knowledge and tools to apply in my work. This was more. I walked away from this immersive learning experience looking not only at my professional role differently, but my personal life as well. How could I help my community thrive? Do I know my neighbours? How can I get to know them better? Attending this event has impacted me in many different facets. Here are my biggest takeaways from those three amazing days:
- On building a successful Community Cake - Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) relies on six building blocks; Individuals, Associations, Institutions, Physical Space, Exchange, Culture and Stories. Communities have a wealth of skills and knowledge in its citizens. Knowing how to put these community gifts together to maximize the potential of each community member through our connections is the key to a successful and abundant community.
- Change starts with communities - Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village. When we were young, we were given our first class in ABCD in the form of a nursery rhyme: Humpty Dumpty. The nest called Community is where hatchers and catchers are waiting to be invited in. Like Humpty, when your narrative is “I’m falling, I’m broken”, you cannot see the ‘nest’ on the other side of the wall. What would happen if we thought about our citizens as capable instead broken & needy? What if we focused on creating space for new conversations and shifted from doing ‘for’ people to people doing ‘with’ people. By recognizing that the people with the “problems” are also the people with the “solutions” you begin to see the abundance that exists in a community, and the myth that Humpty Dumpty is broken and cannot be put together again dissipates.
- Community is a verb - Community is a verb, not a noun; we do Evidence shows that interdependence and connection is essential to community life. Within 6 months of connecting within a community and removing the isolation, wellness and life quality is increased by 50%!
- Power of Neighbours! Community development is By, For, and Of the people. In Canada, caring is in our DNA; it is an indispensable force that connects all of us. And it starts with neighbours recognizing the power within their neighbourhoods by getting to know each other and impacting social change by the bottom up, not top down. This neighbour power has the power to overcome loneliness, to sustain local economies, to prevent crime, to care for the earth, to advance social justice, and to restore democracy.
- Golden rule for community organizing - Never do for people what they can do for themselves. Lead by stepping back and allowing natural connections to shape the community, holistically, not organizationally. Strive for results by connecting with people where they are, their “bumping places”, their language, their culture, their networks, their passions. Every individual has gifts of the head, the heart and the hands; use them!
These teachings have given me a new lens and approach to my work as Community Engagement Coordinator, and to my roles as a mother and citizen in my own community. Months later I still find myself reflecting on what I learned during those three days when tackling different issues. I highly recommend attending these gatherings. The knowledge gained from this event has been invaluable in so many ways!
“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. – W.B. Yeats”