The Atlantic Canada Great Ideas Exchange

Submitted by: Cheryl Veinotte, Faculty NSCC Cumberland & Mount Allison University

Sociology of Leadership Class Spring 2013

This great idea stemmed from a wish that I had to get the students of my Leadership course at Mount Allison University out in the local, rural community of Sackville, NB – my hometown and the community that becomes home to them while attending the university. However, I did not just want them to go out and volunteer; my vision was for them to have a service learning experience where they could put the leadership skills that they were learning about into practice, while at the same time learning a bit more about the community and providing a service to a number of its local citizens.

So, with this idea brewing, I reached out to a number of groups in town that I knew were doing great work, but who were not necessarily overly visible in the area and also did not have a great deal of funds for event planning. I contacted the Tantramar Family Resource Centre whose vision is to, “ensure that all who live in Tantramar have access to social services that make the region safe, secure and healthy; where their most basic needs are met, and where reasonable quality of life is assured,” and the Daybreak Centre, a peer support activity center whose mandate is to, “provide social, recreational and educational activities for adult mental health consumers.” I also contacted the Sackville Community Garden as they had just moved to a wonderful new location and I thought it would be a great venue for the event. Just by chance, around the same time, I was asked by the United Way if Sackville would like to participate in their annual Day of Caring event and I thought this would be a perfect way for us to jump in!

This past spring was the 3rd Annual “Growing Our Community event, and each year it has been a huge success; here are a number of reasons why the event is so wonderful and why it has been (and will continue to be) sustainable in this lovely little town:

  • We do the event virtually free by using supplies from all non-profit groups involved (TFRC, Daybreak & the Community Garden), donations from my class and from the United Way and its corporate sponsors.
  • We promote inter-generational activities for a full day at the garden ranging from games with a focus on literacy (singing, garden stories, learning about plant life, etc.) for small children, to a scavenger hunt and crafting with adults with a range of mental health issues, to gardening with members from the non-profits and any local citizen who wants to come out.
  • We host a free barbeque for the community later in the day with staff from the Town of Sackville cooking. This gives us a chance to tell visitors all about the garden and the 2 non-profit groups as well as to see their local Town staff and council in action! At the end of the day we donate any remaining food to a charity run that always happens to be the next day in memory of a local girl who was murdered as a result of spousal (ex) violence.
  • The Mount Allison students are able to practice their leadership planning and many others skills by way of planning the entire day from advertising, to the games, and much more.
  • The students return to class and reflect on their experience adding to the element of service learning for them.
  • The relationship, often known in this area as “town & gown” is strengthened meaning that we are helping to close the gap that sometimes exists between the university and the local community.
  • The students often leave behind something that they can come back to visit for years to come (some examples including planting trees and other flowers, making a sunflower house from bricks, and more)
  • The clients of the Daybreak center are able to engage in activities that they may not otherwise attend due to their individual mental health needs.
  • The United Way’s Day of Caring – which we plan this under the umbrella of – happens every single year on the same day across Canada, so any rural area could just as easily plan a similar day for little to no cost and use this as a means of educating the community about important local non-profits and their great work while at the same time bringing community members together.
  • The agencies are able to do work (repair garden plots, do painting, this year we built a raised through style bed for people with disabilities to garden, etc.) and promote themselves in ways that they normally could not afford (marketing, supplies, etc.) or would have to use their limited grant money for.

Overall, this event was one that just started through a small class discussion and has grown to be one of my most meaningful contributions to not only my local community, but to my students and to myself. I am moved each year as I watch my students engage with the local community and LEAD – just what I am trying to teach them. This year I was blessed to have 3 International students in my class, one of whom has gone to sustain this work by volunteering weekly with the TFRC and the local food bank.

In conclusion, here are some links to the agencies and my event space. I hope this idea can spread across our great Atlantic!