An Engaged Community Is at the Foundation of a Healthy Society

It’s no secret that Vancouver’s Community Centre Associations and communities are engaged. Vancouver has a culture of residents being involved, active and using the power of their collective voice to provide feedback, input and ideas to local government. This type of civic engagement is at the foundation of a healthy society – and it’s something that we should all be proud of and support.

We are at what we hope are the last rounds of revisions to the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) in the ongoing discussions with the Park Board to get to an agreement that works for our communities. As many readers of this blog know, it has been a long, tough process that has taken more than 18 months and thousands of hours of volunteer time from CCA presidents, board members and other representatives.

If we are able to get to a JOA that works for the Park Board and our respective communities – it will be time to rebuild the relationship between the Park Board and the CCAs, to re-establish trust, and to create a partnership culture that works for everyone involved so that we can move forward together in a positive manner. This requires a two-sided effort.

The current situation with the JOA has made us think about what it means to have a robust, productive, mutually respectful relationship between a community centre association and local government – what it means to create positive civic/community partnerships that work.

We did some digging online and found some interesting examples of what this could look like – and we want to share it with you. Before we do that, one of the things that we found when we started this search is this link to the Government of Canada site called Community Connections – for new immigrants to Canada.

This site recommends that those who have come to Canada to make a home consider volunteering at a local community centre. It encourages people to get involved in their community, to find friends, and create a sense of belonging. Whether a person is a fourth generation Canadian or they have just arrived, our community centres are a place where people are welcome and where they are made to feel that they belong.

Our research also turned up several communities across the country that showcase best practices for local government and CCAs working together. The City of Saskatoon’s approach stood out for its inclusive, collaborative approach. The City of Saskatoon appears to be a proactive partner in supporting and working with its CCAs. You can see more about how they are doing this here, including several pdf booklets on governance and how to get involved with your community centre association.

The City of Regina is another example that exemplifies positive practices regarding civic/community partnerships. They offer a range of resources to support active, engaged communities that want to make a difference in their neighbourhoods and their city. This includes a Neighbourhood Support Model Toolkit that has 12 modules that give hands-on advice on what a community-based organization needs to know to work well. The modules include strategic planning, recruiting and recognizing volunteers, how to better understand finances and more. There are even community consultants who will work with community-based organizations. You can learn more about this here.

The City of Edmonton has the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL), which works in partnership with the City of Edmonton and City Council. The overarching goal of the EFCL is to enhance the quality of life in Edmonton by supporting the community league movement; this includes promoting, facilitating and celebrating volunteerism at the community level. And, as a part of that, they advocate on behalf of the membership on general city-wide issues and in assisting members in their role as community advocates. You can learn more here.

Vancouver is often used as an example of how important and valuable community engagement is for community centres. CCAs are volunteer-run – the board is made up of volunteers, the CCA president is a volunteer, and many of the people who help us to get things done are volunteers. (There are, of course, paid staff at our community centres too – people who do a great job of keeping programs running, administrative work being done and more. And we have a huge amount of respect for them and love working with them.) However, one of the challenges that Vancouver is facing is that it is clear that we don’t have a strong, positive civic/community partnership. And for many years, it has felt like a battleground. That needs to change.

We hope that if we can get to a JOA that works for our unique communities, we can find a way to create a more mutually respectful, positive relationship with the Park Board. We hope that we can see each other as equal partners and that we can work together, collaborate and communicate with the end goal of serving our communities in the best way possible. We want the result of all of our work to be that our diverse communities will have access to great community centres that meet their unique needs.

Saskatoon, Regina and Edmonton are only three examples of positive and productive civic and community partnerships – and their best practices are something to emulate. We hope that the Park Board will step forward, along with us, to find ways to create this type of partnership culture. We want to get a JOA that works for our communities – and we want to create a future that is positive, productive and that provides the best for our community members.