1000 Conversations - A Discussion about Community with the Hope House Team

Submitted by Hope House on September 10, 2013 - 12:52pm
A community conversation with a faith based community benefit org


At HOPE House, we are all about community and community building, coming together as one to help each other, and giving back to the community. Here is a conversation we had about the meaning of 'community' and what it means to HOPE House. 

A group of 10 people gathered for this conversations including a Tamarack facilitator, staff from HOPE House and volunteers.

Question: What is a memorable experience of community for you and why is this a memorable experience?

We noticed that often, community comes together from a negative scenario, like a disaster or another tragic event. It isn't often that a community comes together voluntarily as a result of a 'positive' event, which is unfortunate. We would like to see 'community' coming together for more positive reasons. Here are some of our own personal experiences with 'community': 

·      Nick –I remember once, in Quebec during a street party, everyone put aside their differences and were able to get together as a community and have an inclusive day...it was unusual for this to happen without a negative event bringing the community together. 

·      Lindsay – All of our group stories [about community] revolved around food. Food was always an element… we discussed Nick Saul (of The Stop in Toronto) and how food can create community. This plays a large role in our efforts at HOPE House with our Food Market and the ideas behind our Edu-Kitchen programs.

·      Derek – I grew up in a Mennonite church where 3 families made up most of the church. It was a giant family where every year, they would do a church retreat, 60 people or so, would all go to a retreat center for the weekend. Everyone went; the whole church came together. Families all hung out together, kids who were older and younger, everyone was a community throughout the week and the year but that weekend it was particularly deep.

·      Kevin – I started school in a one room public school. You could sit and listen to the stories of the students ahead of you. I was getting advanced knowledge. Out in the playground, the older protected the younger. When you are vying for who is in charge, in the grades together, there was a system where they knew what their roles were and what their job was. You knew who you could turn to.

·      Derek – we talk a lot about community, it has become a buzzword. What do we mean by community, and what does community mean to you?

·      Lisa – Coming together with who you want to be with.

·      Cali – A huge element of sharing.

·      JP – Coming together for a common good.

·      Kevin – My question is, are there boundaries to a community? Is it just your city block?

·      JP – There is a global community too. What would it take to get everyone together? It would take something that is challenging everyone in the world. If it is a global challenge, all of a sudden the earth is all one because there is something bigger than the earth.

·      Derek – Do we need adversity to bring people together?

·      JP – Adversity seems like the most frequent thing that brings everyone together. It is unfortunate that it is the reality.

·      Karen – I think we live too independently

·      Cali – Everyone is continually pushing towards independence. Pushing to gain success and independence in a world where we are constantly community.

·    Lindsay – I feel sometimes that the people who want to seek their own selfish desires isolate themselves.

·      Karen –There is now this generation that has idolized the independent structure. I think back to my family almost being the smallest family and we had four kids in our family. Everyone was part of a larger family, part of a sharing and working together. Nowadays you just don’t see this, not as we used to.

·      Lisa – As people, we scatter. When I was little, we were close with our immediate family. Then we moved here and one person moved there and it is a major ordeal for us to get together. Friends we make where we relocate to are becoming family.

·      JP – The idea of neighbours.. how well do we know our neighbours? If I know our neighbour, and our neighbour is having a problem I am more inclined to help possibly. This is a way of building community...getting to know one another may make it more likely that we will help one another out.

·      Brooke – That reminds me of how when you leave home and go away to university, you become so close with your 'neighbours' by getting to know them that they really become your family. As we all 'scatter' we develop a closeness with our friends that become almost like a substitute for having our family near. I think this is a really unique sense of community that forms this way. When you are living in such close quarters in residence with people you don't really know, who aren't your family, I think it is amazing how quickly strangers can become your closest friends who you would do anything for. 

·      Cali – Unfortunately, some families themselves are placing less and less priority on ‘community' I think. I can’t imagine living in Calgary (where I go to school) for the rest of my life because community and family is so important to me. Technology has really changed the way ‘community’ has been over the years.

·      Derek – My housemate has been focusing on moving his parents close to him in Guelph instead of their hometown.  When I went to Palestine a few years ago, I stayed with a family where each floor was a different generation/member of the family.

·      Kevin – We laugh and criticize Middle Eastern culture sometimes, but look at a lot of families of this culture and the amazing sense of community they have, for example families who still support their families from accross the world, sending money, working day in and day out to make sure the needs of their family are met.  

·      Lindsay – I know a family who owns a business together and has three generations living in the same house. This is such a sense of community in the family sense. 

·      Derek – Family is very important to me but moving into a house with my parents is never a thought in my mind.

·      Karen – We host a lot of Japanese exchange students in our home, who come from families that live with grandparents, parents… many generations. This is so common in some cultures but almost foreign to us.

·      Derek – Sometimes moving away seems crazy. Bringing the focus back to HOPE House, what does this community mean to you?

·      Kevin – For me, it is a sense of my heritage that I am revisiting. My great great grandfather was from around here, our whole family left but now I have returned. I feel a sense of home and heritage here that I haven’t felt anywhere else that I have lived. I feel I am getting values back to where it was. I don’t want Guelph to go by way of Toronto and parts of the states. I grew up in a stone house, went to a stone church, I see symbolism in this that I'm now back in an old stone church at HOPE House. I know the world is moving on but I want to feel that anchor and foundation here in Guelph.

·      Cali – For me it is a place of connection here. I never get connected to people who are struggling financially. With a western mentality you don’t often see everyone around you, you have your goal and you see the people you want to see. You can learn about others and learn about what they face every day and what they face. The life that I live is so different than the life that they live. It is an interesting way of connecting with people from all walks of life.  It gives you a whole different perspective.

·      Karen -  By being a new organization, you have the ability to create and build what you would like it to be. There were some other organizations that we clearly knew we didn’t want to be like. That was a big piece of building a community here. We have the ability to create a place here where people feel welcome, and it is a warm and caring environment. Going  back to what Kevin said, building on the old values and putting them back in place.

·      JP – I see it as a really level playing field: people come how they are. We have always promoted it as a come as you are kind of place. One of the community feelings here is that we all treat each other with dignity and respect. Certain things that seem to matter so much in other places don’t seem to matter so much here It really seems to  be a level playing field.

·      Lisa – joining together the level playing field and the diversity. HOPE House has moved so quickly I cannot get over it. We haven’t even been open a year but the things that we do and the people that come in here just blows my mind. A lot of times people come in the door and leave their negativity out there, come in and we can sit down and have a coffee and speak as equals. It isn’t always the case but as soon a they walk in the door it is a different situation.

·      Brooke – The HOPE House community is just amazing to me. it is amazing how in such little time, so much has been accomplished. The scope of people the come in to HOPE House, both as volunteers and clients, the sheer number is amazing. It already has such a presence in the Guelph community, it can only get better from here. To me, HOPE House has the potential to be a great facilitator of community in Guelph. Clients come in and volunteer to help other clients...it isn't just an 'us' versus 'them' type of place. This is a work-together-live-together type of place, where everyone is equal, which I think is a huge aspect of community. I think it is really great how many people in the greater Guelph community are so willing to get involved and give back, to really help each other out. The neat thing is that our community at HOPE House is based on a strong foundation of dignity and respect for everyone that walks through that door, which I just think is so fantastic. 

·      Lisa – You may be helping the clients by giving them food/clothes/etc, but they’re helping you too.

·      Kevin – I appreciate the opportunity to give back to what I’m receiving.

·      Karen – We want to stress that relationship is key. Building relationships is so important to us. Building a deeper connection is paramount. 

·      Derek – Nicole… when you first came here what was your first thought?

·      Nicole – I really agree that this is a place of community, and it is really cool that the volunteers giving back. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing that brings people together at HOPE House, it is just life.

·      Nick – I like the fact that people enter here and it is like their home, its like their life. We give our time to make them happy.

Some feedback from our clients on a poster that asked 'Why is HOPE House important to You?" returned some pretty cool answers...

  • The volunteers are great, as well as others.
  •  It gives me the resources to refresh myself
  • A fresh, cool meal on a hot day is exactly what I need
  • The staff and volunteers are awesome
  • HOPE House gives me a chance to feel productive and helpful, helping out in the community.

·      Derek – So why is this important to you?

·      Kevin – HOPE House has given me purpose to my life. It has meant a lot to me.

·      Lisa – it has given me the opportunity to be the hands and feet of what God wants me to do. My life is crazy busy and sometimes it gets lost in every day life. For most of us in here, in my everyday life that often gets pushed aside. When I come in here, it is almost like an ‘ahhh’ moment. It is a different sense of crazy. Sometimes it’s a challenge but its always entertaining.

·      Lindsay – I worked at another nonprofit, but I believe so much in what this place is doing, it isn’t a chore to be here. I get paid to do exactly what I want to do with my life. I can’t believe that I lucked out and what I love I can bring to a spiritual level.

·      Brooke – I feel like I've been searching for exactly what fits for me in terms of what sort of community outreach I'm passionate about, and I feel like I've found that at HOPE House. It is so great to hear that we are actually making a difference for people, and create a space where they feel safe, welcomed, and respected. HOPE House has a way of making you feel like you've found your 'place' regardless if you are a client, volunteer or staff member, I think. You can't not love it here. 

·      Karen – I think sometimes when you come at it from many different places, your life experiences come into play. I used to have a career in sales and marketing and it was a very successful career. But I wanted to do something more meaningful. I came to nonprofit to find more meaning. I feel very fulfilled here and very blessed to be here.

·      Cali – For me, it’s a privilege to be able to work in a place like this. It kind of came landing in  my lap. I feel like the clients give me more than I give them. I don’t feel like I’m coming to work. I would do this without getting paid. Just the interactions of the people and coworkers all have the same mentality. We don’t see people as a burden and we see them as a gift upon us and a blessing to be around.

·      Derek -  My next question for you, is where do you find the deepest sense of community and connection happening at HOPE House?

·      Lisa – I find it happening downstairs, around food. Its fun more than anything.

·      Kevin – I think unloading the truck.

·      Karen – I think it is in the doing life together.

·      Lindsay – Our conversations of life together. Talking to people while I'm taking pictures in the hair salon or the cadence program, being out and around involved with the programs and interacting with clients.

·      Kevin – Back to the food, I know the plan is to do more. Times like when have pancake breakfast, people came from all different businesses to come together. Everyone took a station and volunteered and everyone all worked together. We had everyone working at it. All working side by side.

·      Brooke – I find that in calling for donations or community involvement, it is so great to see how eager people in the community are to get involved or help in some way. It's like if you ask for help, people are ready and willing to do so more often than not, which is amazing. The postive feedback I've had far outweighs any negative feedback in terms of willingness to hear more about HOPE House, our programs, and getting involved.

·      Cali – Walking around with the clients and taking them through the food market. We are talking about what food they like to make, having conversations about their life. It is a unique experience where you both have to be there at that moment. I get to share my life with them and they get to share their life with me. There is no where else we are meant to be right then. We have a divine appointment to be sharing in community.

·      Derek – We've been focusing so much on community, why it makes you and why it has such a deep sense of it here for you.  Where do we go from here? What aspirations do you have for this place? What aspirations do you have to build community?

·      Kevin – I think we’ve developed it in a short period of time. It’s been built faster than we can keep up with. Things like our Backpack Project growing from 240 last year to 740 this year, it keeps growing…it's like a nucleus here. There really isn’t a lot of time for us to think of what we want out of it. I’d love to see ‘HOPE in Motion’ and have a truck doing deliveries and sharing further with the community. Communication is so much, as Brooke said, when people are asked to participate in an opportunity to give they are so willing to participate. That is our challenge, to keep up with God’s plan.

·      Karen – I think we need to open to the opportunities that come our way. There have been so many things that have come our way, responding to our clients needs, that are constantly responding to where people are at or where they need to be going to make life a little better.

·      Lindsay – We try to take a more holistic approach, building skills into people to help elminiate needs. We try to build education to help eliminate needs holistically.

·      Derek – A wrap-around program seems like a newer concept, where the idea is that we are so much more than one person. We want to provide for all of them. To have ‘wrap-around’ care. The Working Center is another place I keep mentioning.

·      Karen – A lady from Acton had come in to visit and told us how awesome the Working Center was.

·      Derek – It’s a thing like, what can we be 20 or 30 years down the road. They have so many different facets. There are a lot of people who want to get into the service sector but have no way to.  Downtown kitchener is interesting because you have so much poverty contrasting with so much wealth. If you want to find a place doing cool things similar to yourselves, check out the working center.

·      Kevin – I think it is very valid to see that we aren’t building a totally unique place, that other communities are in need. I would like to see connections grow with places like Beginnings or Michael House, where we can send people their way and they can send them ours.

·      Derek – What has stood out for you from this conversation? 

·      Lisa – Mostly everyone has said that we all have a common goal and we can all do what we can to help us out. To help those who aren’t as fortunate and blessed as we are.

·      Lindsay – I love future planning and strategic planning, thinking of what has to be in place of where we are going. Its looking through the lens of how we are growing, and it cant just be about what we do and why we do it. It has reminded me that all future planning has to have that in mind

·      Cali – It reminds me how meaningful a place like this is and how important it is to maintain what we have, and push more community and invite others to join in on it. We all sit here and speak about how privileged we are and talk about how much we love this place. How can we invite others to join with us and join in in the change and the difference that’s going on in or.

·      Brooke – I think the idea of getting back to grassroots family values, the idea of basic respect/understading/dignity towards one another is so important. 

·      Nicole – this is a great community in itself, we are doing a lot as it is. I noticed coming to HOPE House that they go above and beyond. Other organizations aren’t as ‘specialized.’ I hope HOPE House can be a spark to something big.

·      JP – I’m reminded that there is no community without people. Something like this doesn’t grow and expand without really big vision here. Karen has wonderful ‘vision’ going down the road. One of my strengths is people, community in general is about people and the need to be near people. 

·      Karen – In order to build community out there we need to have a good foundational community amongst us. That can only mean that when we go out in the broader community we will be stronger together.

·      Kevin – I see the nucleus of the start of HOPE House, Karen began and everyone followed, coming in and developing and working with that. A lot of people that come in for the short term, we see postitive changes come in  their space. We see a lot of value changes come into the community. This is something we could be more conscious of that part of us is out there with and will bring some of that.

·      Nick – We speak about the community. I see that people here are very helpful. We don’t have a place like HOPE House in Quebec, I see how you are closer than us, I’m proud. In Quebec it is more everyone for himself, but here it is more everyone helping each other. Here if I see people who aren't able to cross a road, everyone is here to help him. 

·      Derek – Kevin, you talked about the one room school house and the sene of community that happened between age groups. It is something I’ve spent time thinking about. The real value of that space, being in the community and connecting together. It has become much more fractured but also more harmonized. We are a community where people get together in same age brackets as ourselves, I would like to see more models of the one room school house that you mentioned, everyone working together.

·      Kevin – Here at Cadence, our alternative high school program, you could see all the different grade working together like that. I really admire that. 

·      Derek – The reason we get in this line of work is because we believe we have calling, a duty to help. But what we may not realize is how big of an impact that working with each and every one of us has an impact on each of us. It is something we don’t recognize when we come into it. But evenjust being here for an hour with all of you has impacted me.