“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.”
― Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
Community building has always been an important part of the way we work at the Women’s Centre. Thanks to funding from The Calgary Foundation, we were able to take on a unique community engagement project to connect with Bridgeland-Riverside, Renfrew and Crescent Heights in 2014. We wanted to strengthen existing relationships, build new ones, and learn about the community around us. We asked women what they wanted to see at the Centre and what they were experiencing in the community. There was also a special focus on reaching out to older women, as they only make up three percent of Women’s Centre visitors.
Over five months, we door-knocked, gave presentations, ran articles in community newsletters, met with community members, and hosted various events. You may have seen our lemonade stand out front of the Women’s Centre on a few of the last warm evenings in September! Thanks to these activities, we were able to connect with over 350 people from July to November.
Women told us about sexism in male-dominated industries, stereotypes about women, safety when walking alone at night, street harassment, poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, abuse and violence, mental health concerns, not receiving equal pay for equal work, lack of educational opportunities, childcare, and isolation and depression. Many women felt that the Women’s Centre had a role to play in addressing these issues, and we agree.
We heard that some people experience barriers to coming to the Women’s Centre, including childcare, transportation, and finding the time to come in for a visit. We also received a huge number of wonderful suggestions for more workshops to run in 2015. Self defense, mechanics, drumming, finances, painting, tea tastings, crafts, yoga, social media, quilting, cooking, making jam, and movie nights were all among the suggestions for workshop topics. Our calendar for upcoming events can be found here.
Stay tuned for our next community engagement steps! In response to the things we heard from the community around us, we are looking into running a women’s safety walk in Bridgeland with Sustainable Calgary. We are also looking to continue our community engagement work with older women, by running an art group and potentially partnering with other organizations in the city. In regards to childcare concerns, we are looking to both explore child-minding options at the Women’s Centre, as well as continue our Work For Change initiatives on childcare policy. Similarly, we will also continue our social issues work on poverty, and support the implementation of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative through Vibrant Communities Calgary. Finally, we will take those workshop suggestions and run/continue running some of those topics, as well as work with some of our union connections to run workshops on sexism in the workplace.
To wrap-up the project, we held a Tasty Bites and Info Night on Thursday, Nov. 27 in order to invite those we had connected with in to the centre for some snacks, a tour, and a chance to hear what we learned during the project. We were even surprised by a large toy donation right in the middle of the evening! Thanks to all who spontaneously volunteered to help bring in all the toys for our Toy Room, as well as the local restaurants that generously donated food, including A Perfect Pizza, Baya Rica Café, Boogies Burgers, El Charrito, Joycee’s Carribbean Food, Main Dish, Sushi Bar Zipang, and Sushi Daruma. Thank you to The Calgary Foundation for funding this project.
Finally, a big thanks to everyone we connected with this fall. It was wonderful to meet you all, and we look forward to working with you in the future!