The key to change is ‘up to us.’

By Vern Faulkner
St. Stephen

For three days, Sarah Goulding and Abby Pond heard from speakers and community leaders who had brilliant ideas on how to help small communities, such as those in this region, survive and prosper.
So enthused were the pair, both of whom attended the Georgetown Conference as part of the “Rural Redefined” project launched by Newspapers Atlantic, that they gathered together Monday afternoon to share a wealth of new ideas.
“I’ve already had three meetings,” reflected Goulding, who the Courier/Courier Weekend sponsored as a delegate to the conference.
“It’s hard to pick a focus … we want to do it all,” interjected Pond, the executive director for the St. Croix Waterway Commission.
Reflecting upon the ideas presented at the three-day conference in Georgetown, P.E.I., Goulding looks at this region and said one thing is now obvious to her: there are a number of groups pushing to better the region, but those groups have yet to come together to present a unified vision.
“We have champions, probably more than most communities. We just need to bring them all together.”
The county’s cheerleaders, visionaries and leaders are, said Pond, “working in silos.”
After listening to three days of invigorating ideas, the challenge now is to put those ideas into action.
Pond said that one of the first things the region needs to do is identify exactly what its identity is.
“The first step is to decide who we are as a community, and what we want to be. As a community, as an identity, a specific identity, to rally around. That was one of the biggest take-home messages.”
St. Stephen is more than “Canada’s Chocolate Town,” just as Saint Andrews is more than the Algonquin Hotel, more than just a resort community. But what, question both women, is that “more?”
“We need to find out what our community feels is our tie to the community, and express that,” said Pond.
Goulding eagerly added her view that defining the identity is more than just a branding exercise, it’s a matter of agreeing on a set of community values, “so we don’t bring in a Wal-Mart, and call it a success, while killing the community.”
Pond said she sees some of that approach taking place in McAdam, where a series of town hall meetings, organized by this newspaper and the Village of McAdam, have led to grass-roots input as residents take part in activities aimed at bettering the village.
Both women are now looking forward to the next step, which includes further town hall meetings, to bring the energy of the rank-and-file citizen to bear.
“It will come out of the next meetings, if we focus on that,” said Pond. “We’re already on that path, and it comes out of what people say their priorities are.
“It’s about creating a healthy, vibrant living space.”
Goulding said that, when compared to other municipalities, this region is in a stellar position to change, to grow, to prosper.
“We’re in a great position already. It’s really exciting here,” she said, adding that a continued negative perception is a huge obstacle to change.
Pond elaborated.
“When you’re in your own town, you get into the mental mindset, and all you see is the challenges that your own community is facing,” she said. “Look at the resources available … I mean, we have it good, and we have great building blocks.
“It isn’t overwhelming.”
A key message, one delivered by the Mayor of Yarmouth,  Pam Mood (see story below) is that no government, be it federal, provincial or municipal, has the power to truly bring about community change – that will rest to the average citizen. When that community held its town hall meeting (such events have been staged by community newspapers throughout the Maritimes), the participants were asked to make a pledge, Pond explained.
“Everyone who came in the door, was asked to make a pledge on what they were going to do,” she said, a goal that was manageable, reasonable, and achievable. “If we had that commitment, from people, to say ‘these are the things I am interested in and I am going to help do it’.”
The grass roots is the true power of change, said Goulding, who said Mood, for her, summarized the entire conference in one statement that has encapsulated the path forward.
“It’s up to us.”