The Atlantic Canada Great Ideas Exchange
Submitted by: Karen Andrews-Savoury, Bay St. George, NL
Karen Andrews-Savoury a registered social worker, Executive Director of the Bay St. George Women’s Centre and founder of Linked Into Communities: a community resource service used to inform, connect and engage the general public in their communities. She states “no matter what challenges/barriers we face in our lives everyone has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential and it starts with making a connection.”
When faced with a problem what makes it thrive and grow? Power has a continuous presence in our communities and how we use power can affect the change we want to see. When we transfer power to a person it embraces the transfer of knowledge and skills that delivers a form of creativity used to nurture relationships and extend networks.
When community members feel empowered they engage others to participate. In turn a pay it forward/give back approach is initiated. A community member stated “The Women’s Centre gave me the courage to grow and to refine myself again. This feels important to me, like I am a part of the solution in some way. They allowed me the ability to give my ideas and allowed me to run with them. I now pay it forward helping other women realize they are worth more and deserve so much more.”
This is the beginning of extending networks and investing in community leadership. An interesting example is engaging businesses to invest in rural communities in an effort to create cost effective and solution focused outcomes. Like a weekly meal program sponsored by Dominion in Stephenville. This program is delivered in four week intervals with a small fee paid by participants and administered to the coordinator as an honorarium for managing the program. The women take ownership over the program, participate, socialize and make healthier choices. Another example is the Town of Kippens and the Cape St. George Waste Management service support to collaborate with a non-profit to deliver an innovative reusable furniture project. As a community member stated “I think they should offer this type of program everywhere,” she said. “There is a need out there. This shows there are people who are willing to help others.”
We also learn by sharing our experiences with others. To think outside the box and create an environment that can nurture progress and extend support. It is our community connections that strengthen the capacity to bring out the resilience in others.
This energy that is created can also be seen in the business and non-profit sector who are contributing to a Stephenville Artistic Age Festival in June 2014. Outcomes include increasing a sense of identity, preserve or restore social capital, and strengthen social networks in communities. This initiative provides older adults with an opportunity to have a direct impact upon decision making; viability as leaders and potential contributors to improving community life.
Being creative and innovative is a unique opportunity to reinvest in our rural communities. We continue to be faced with the pressure to diversify due to significant changes in the government’s role in providing social and other services. The greatest incentive has been to reinvest in an individual’s strengths and abilities. Programs that provide work based environments can help meet the needs of a rural community and at the same time invest in a valuable set of skills that can transform into opportunity.
Revenue generating activities to increase self-sufficiency can meet rural communities’ needs. For instance, students in Stephenville have started a glass painting program and it has sparked interest among many in the community. The students and community participants are interested in selling their art pieces and donate a portion of their proceeds to a local housing unit for individuals who are affected by homelessness.
Creativity is also seen among the Women’s Centre garden project used to respond to increased local community needs, diversify revenue sources and improve resilience and sustainability among participants. For instance, a group of students from the College of the North Atlantic came together to implement a gardening program called Planting Potential and Cultivating Connections. Cultivated vegetables are made into items like beats, pesto sauces and will be preserved. The garden has a connection with the College of the North Atlantic for technical support.
It is important to note that people recognize the traditional system and approach may not be beneficial to everyone. We also know that the non-profit sector is not going to solve all societal problems. However, we can find solutions in our communities. It is at the community level that we have the power to make invisible voices visible.