Stuck in a Rut

Photo: Jeff SamsonowHands up if you’ve either been pushed out of a snow bank over the past couple of weeks or if you’ve pushed someone else out.  My guess is that if I could see you now, I would see a lot of hands.  We Canadians are known to be a particularly friendly and polite group and there are few times that we see this more than during the adventure that we call winter.  Despite the biting cold, there always seems to be someone there to help push us out when we get stuck.  While this is great in winter, wouldn’t it be great if there was “someone there to help give us a push” when we get stuck in other ways throughout the year?  

This morning I sat in a meeting with a group of people who are leaders within the social sector.  The group was discussing how it should move forward in efforts to better support children, youth and families.  After discussing some of the practical ideas in the room, the conversation turned to a few questions that were much more philosophical in nature, “How do we get people to care?” and “Do we believe that a community has a responsibility to take care of its citizens?”  Big questions to be sure.

A staff person from the City of Edmonton mentioned that during the consultations for The Way We Live: Edmonton’s People Plan, one of the consistent themes that she heard was that people are longing for community connections.  So what holds us back?  When we see a car stuck in a rut, most of us will quickly offer help without giving a thought as to why.  Yet at the same time, our community agencies struggle to find volunteers to act as mentors for children, to answer calls on the Distress Line or to coach a minor hockey team.  

Don’t get me wrong, there are countless people going out of their way to help build better communities.  I think of the “Miracle on 82nd Street,” where a group of community residents and businesses came together to address issues of crime in their neighbourhood.  Their solution to a particularly troublesome back alley – hang Christmas lights to increase the lighting and sense of safety!  Or how about a program called “The Spoke” where youth who are caught stealing bikes enter an 8-week program where they learn to become a bike mechanic and then receive a bike at the end of the program.  (Here’s a video that describes the program in more detail, it is well worth watching!)

So, my question is this: how do we encourage people to come together to help build stronger communities? This is not a rhetorical question!  Perhaps you are someone who is already actively involved in your community. If so, I’d love to hear what got you involved and why you stay in involved.  And if you have ideas on how to get people engaged, I’d love to hear them!

 Tim Osborne is the Director, Community Building and Investment for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.