Celebrating this Generation of Citizens

Submitted by 1000 Conversations on March 30, 2014 - 9:46pm
A community conversation with a group of community champions in Halton

A group of wonderful community movers and shakers gathered for a community conversation in Halton Hills. Each person brought insight and energy as they all contribute so much to their community. We had a former mayor and a current councilor, two citizen’s of the year and so much more. It was truly humbling to be in their presence.  They were all gathered because together they formed the board for the Devereux House, an old building that had been saved from demolition and turned into a community space.  On this evening they had come together for their AGM, 30 minutes of which they set aside for my friend Alex and I to have a conversation with them about community.

The first question we asked was: Share a powerful experience of community in your life

Recently, there had been a major ice storm that had knocked out power in some places for as long as four days.  A couple people shared how this point of crisis brought the community together.  People reached out to help each other, sharing their time and resources.  One woman told the story of how her neighbour used his generator to power her house, as well as a couple others on the block.

Another person shared how there were three major fundraisers in town and they did not fight with each other for resources. In fact, the group was really proud of how such a small community could give so much.

Church was another thing that came up.  It was shared how the church served as a base and from there, people felt they had the strength to reach out and help the greater community.

They talked about how friendly the community is in Halton Hills; they love the small town feel and are concerned that with all the pressure to grow, they will lose that and become like Milton. In particular, they noted how friendly everyone was to seniors.

The most celebrated story, though, was of Devereux House, itself. This had been an old house set aside for demolition when a group of citizens came together to save it.  They were able to raise money from the community to help rebuild the space.  They also received a lot of support from people donating their time and resources.  It took a diversity of people to bring this place back.  Everything from a group of school kids, who were brought in to help with demolition, to corporations, who donated resources. This project brought people, who usually wouldn’t cross paths, together. As such, the initiative generated great pride and satisfaction.

One person in the group had been a long time giver to the community. The group shared how his actions had inspired them and many others, creating a ripple effect throughout the whole community.

Even though many of the people in the group were entering their retirement years, they talked about the energy they got from being involved in the community; how it kept them feeling young.

This is not to say there are not challenges. A general feeling arose that more people needed to step up to the plate and help volunteer in the community. Some of the people expressed concern about whether the younger generations could/would take up the mantle after they had passed.

We then entered into a conversation about what is stopping this next generation from volunteering in their community more. One person mentioned the barrier of time, since yuounger folks are too busy with work, the commute and raising kids. Another one pointed out that she had faced that, but had still found the time to volunteer. Was this next generation as good at multitasking?

Another challenge that was raised was all the red tape that governments were bringing forward, which made it harder for people to volunteer. All of a sudden, to coach soccer you had to also do a couple hours of paper work. This discourages people from volunteering.

Immigration also turned into an interesting discussion. A couple of the people in the room had immigrated to Canada and had worked hard to become part of the community. They lamented how immigrants today seemed to be more interested in keeping to themselves and their fellow immigrants, making it harder to build community.

A couple people felt that the lack of public transit was a significant impediment to community because it stopped people from being able to connect and get involved.  Others raised concerns about how the introduction of public transit would inspire greater migration as people could now work and have leisure outside of Halton Hills.  They also worried it would bring the fast paced nature of the city to their doorstep thus causing Georgetown to lose its small town feel.

All in all, it was a great night, with lots of laughs and a couple tears.  What came out for me was the tremendous pride that came from years of hard work building this community.  And an invested concern in the future.