Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homeless Connect

I spent a chunk of this afternoon at the United Way's InKind Centre. We were volunteering for Homeless Connect which takes place at the Shaw Conference Centre on May 9. Homeless Connect brings together businesses, organizations, and volunteers to provide valuable services to people experiencing homelessness (or are at risk) such as eyeglasses, dental care, long-distance phone calls, haircuts, and mental health services.

There is a lot of preparation that needs to be done before the event, and that is where I have been helping out. I have been distributing posters and cards, mostly in the McCauley area, to make people aware of the event (for both potential volunteers and guests). This afternoon, we helped sort personal care items for the care kits that are distributed to all of the guests who attend Homeless Connect (an estimated 1200). We then helped sort through coats donated for the United Way's "Costs for Kids and Families" campaign. The coats are all dry cleaned by Page Cleaners and then sent to the InKind Centre. We had to sort the coats based on size (Men's, Women's, Children's, Teens', etc.) and season (Spring or Winter). Spring coats will be given out at Homeless Connect.

I had a great time meeting Kristy Jackin, the InKind Centre's Program Coordinator, and learning about the work of the Centre. hHomeless Connect needs volunteers on the day of the event, so check out their website to learn more.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Boyle McCauley News - May 2010

The May 2010 issue of Boyle McCauley News is now online. You can download a copy of the paper in PDF format here. In the meantime, here is a sneek peak at what's inside:

* McCauley Says Enough is Enough!
* McCauley School to Close
* Being a Good Witness
* Shop Talk
* A Dog Park in McCauley?
* McCauley Clean Up
* Call of the Wild
* Letters To The Editor
* Community League Updates
* Dining Out

Monday, April 19, 2010

From Global to Local - Rethinking My Activism

I am someone who has been interested in the subjects of peace and human rights for as long as I have been able to think as an independent person. My life changed dramatically a few years ago when I decided to take concrete actions and stand up for my beliefs by becoming an organizer in the local activist scene. I have helped to organize, spoken at, and sang at countless events and demonstrations. I donate my skills as a website designer, photographer, and videographer - in the process, I have created an archive of Edmonton's activist scene. Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, this is part of the city's history.

Social media is also central to my activist life - in fact, last year I presented on social media for activists at Public Interest Alberta's annual advocacy conference. In fact, I recently created the Twitter account @yegactivist specifically for announcements about activist events.

While peace marches are fun and we all need to do our part to save the environment, a lot of the time there aren't tangible results. At least, not immediately. This has frustrated and burned out many an activist, who sees their efforts as futile. I am not one of these people, but at the same time I have also discovered that dealing with these large issues on a smaller, community-focused level is equally important.

Take, for example, poverty. Poverty is a serious issue, both worldwide and here at home. In December, I volunteered with the Edmonton Food Bank's Stuff-a-Bus campaign. Did we solve the issue of people not having enough to eat? No. But I am willing to bet that many families in Edmonton were able to have a nutritious meal thanks to the donations of money and food we collected.

In reflecting on my activism, I realize that community is a big part of what I do both professionally and personally. I've been involved with both of the city's street newspapers, helping people in poverty make money and develop skills. My work at Boyle McCauley News has made me into an advocate for the inner city. BMC News is so much more than a community newspaper - it is a community project with volunteers taking part in just about every aspect of the paper's existence, from operations to content to delivery. I joined the McCauley Community League

Most recently, I decided to get involved in the Capital City Clean Up as a block captain. I adopted the block upon which the Boyle McCauley News office resides and have gathered up enough volunteers to keep the block clean from May to September. Will this solve the world's environmental woes? No, but it will sure be great not to have litter flying around.

Since I absolutely cannot keep a guitar out of my hands, I had to find a way to set local social justice to music. And I found it. I've gotten involved with an organization called Music is a Weapon that raises both awareness and funds for different causes, locally and globally. I look forward to busking on Whyte Avenue, taking part in drum circles, and maybe even juggling my devil sticks in time to the rhythm of social justice.

Although I am hardly what one could consider affluent, I try to put my money where my mouth is, and joined the Edmonton Social Planning Council and Friends of Medicare while donating what I can to local charitable organizations such as the Youth Emergency Shelter and Habitat for Humanity. In fact, one of my goals is to take part in a Habitat for Humanity house build. While giving money is important, giving of my time lets me feel like I am making more of a difference.

I will continue to take part in events that deal with peace, the environment, and human rights. These are global issues that continually create a need to raise our voices to educate others either as they pass by on the street or hear about it in the media, and hopefully influence public policy. However, I will also be making extra efforts towards community and social justice in Edmonton. While I agree with those in my circle of activist friends who believe we need to be looking at the root causes of injustice, war, and poverty and trying to deal with those issues from the ground up, I have to disagree when local efforts are dismissed as being band-aids to larger problems. After all, a band-aid is supposed to help stop the bleeding and I see enough bloodshed around me to carry a first-aid kit at all times.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Defining Community

I got into an interesting debate this morning with one of my more colourful Twitter correspondents. I stated that I considered myself part of a certain community. He at first interpreted this to mean that I was saying I lived there and pointed out to me (and the rest of Twitter) that I actually live in a different neighbourhood. I clarified that I am indeed part of this community even though I do not happen to reside there. I work there, in a leadership position of a community-based, non-profit organization. I am involved in community events. I am a member of the community league. I spend more time there than I do where I actually live. For these reasons, I consider McCauley to be my community.

This afternoon, I brought up this conversation with a friend of mine who is in the process of studying for her Masters in Library Science. She mentioned that this exact topic was discussed in one of her classes - the question of what exactly defines community. She said the outcome of that discussion was the conclusion that community is actually quite fluid. We can be a part of one or many communities depending on our life circumstances. We can consider our neighbourhoods, work, ethnic groups, and social activities to be communities in which we are involved.

I completely agree. I am a member of one community by virtue of the fact I live there. I am part of another because of my work and passion for the area. As an organizer and participant, I am part of the activist community. Through my activity on Twitter and attendance at several in-person meetups, I am part of Edmonton's Twitter community. My work as a writer and editor makes me part of that professional community. Even though I am not as active as I could be, I am part of a faith community.

Community defines who we are. We, in turn, define and identify the communities of which we are a part. Incidently, I am writing this blog post from my desk in my office in Little Italy. My co-worker, who is also with the McCauley Community League, has arrived and now I am talking to her about this issue. "We have adopted Paula. She *is* a member of this community," she says with a smile.

I love being a member of different communities. I hope I can make a positive impact in all of them. And I look forward to becoming parts of other communities as my life unfolds.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

School Closures and the Inner City's Future

This Tuesday, the Edmonton Public School Board is going to vote to close several inner city schools. The rationale is that the space to usage ratio is off balance, not enough students are enrolled, and these students' needs could be met elsewhere.

I can speak to one of the potential closures personally, since I am part of that community. In McCauley, the school serves a lot of immigrant families who have neither the resources (like, a car) or the time (because they work long hours) to shuttle their children to new schools. These families also want to keep their cultural communities together rather then be dispersed throughout the city.

McCauley is undergoing revitalization right now under the supervision of the City of Edmonton. Part of the plan is to get more young families to buy homes in the area. The EPSB is flying directly against the city's plans. Without a school it will be much more difficult to attract families with children. There is no public school within walking distance of McCauley, should McCauley School close.

Yes, the buildings are big, but the design styles of the time in which they were built was different. And frankly, they are beautiful. Why must be keep moving to the gated-community, white-picket fence mentality of architecture in everything? But most importantly, children and communities should not be punished just because the hallways are wide and the washrooms are large.

The EPSB is also flying in the face of education itself. Children who grow up in diverse, mixed communities do better academically and in life. Pushing children to the 'burbs or to more homogenous neighbourhoods may be more convenient for the EPSB but not for these kids or their families.

What exactly are going to be done with all these large, empty buildings anyways? Why not keep classes going, while utilizing all that extra space for other community-building resources like social organizations, daycare, or adult education classes? It makes no sense to me - the schools are too big and there are not enough students, so let's close them so they can sit empty. Now that is a total waste of space.

Schools are valuable and central to a community. They should not be closed. The EPSB should care more about children and communities than their arbitrary measurements and figures. It should stop commodifying education and community. Schools are not corporations and the bottom line of dollars and cents does not apply in the same way.

If Edmonton is to have a vital and vibrant inner city (rather than just acting as a dumping ground for the city's social problems) community schools have to stay. There is no other choice.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Why I Ride

This is the time of year where I start riding my bike on a regular basis - or at least it was, until things took a chilly and snowy turn last night. In any case, I'll be back on two wheels once things settle a bit. Here is another one of my "Active Observer" editorials I wrote for Our Voice, this one from the June/July 2008 edition.

I have been an avid bicycle commuter for a number of years. Most of my riding takes place in the seasons where snow and ice do not render the ground too slippery for my comfort level. Still, I strive to get in quite a few months of two-wheeled bliss.

Sometimes I ride to get to work-related meetings and events, and sometimes I just hop on my 24-speed mountain bike and head to the River Valley, just for the fun of it. Cycling gives me the opportunity to get outside, get some fresh air, and get some much-needed exercise. It also gets me where I want to go, with reasonable speed and safety.

Cycling has taken on even more importance in my life through my involvement in the activist community. Bicycles and activism go hand in hand. Or, more accurately, bottom on seat. In addition to creating a more intimate interaction between myself and my surroundings, here are some reasons (both practical and radical) why two wheels are better than four:

  • Cycling is better for the environment. This one should be a no-brainer. As one of my favourite bicycle “bumper” stickers says: I get the equivalent of 1000 miles per gallon, and I don’t pollute.

  • Another no-brainer: it’s good for you. Fresh air. Exercise. The pleasure of wind blowing in your face while you watch people cooped up in their cars. A win-win situation all around.

  • A bike-centric lifestyle flies (rolls?) in the face of tradition. So many people associate bike riding with something little kids do. Seeing grown people riding around everywhere for utilitarian purposes (as opposed to performing tricks or racing) really shakes the dominant paradigm for these narrow-minded folks.

  • Cycling counters the materialism that runs rampant in our society. How? When I use my bike to take care of errands, I have to make some very conscious choices about where I am going to go, and what I am going to get. I can only carry so much and am limited by distance on any given trip. As a result, I buy less, spend less, and ultimately consume less.

  • Further to the point above, cycling saves a load of cash in the face of rising gas and oil prices. As well, I don’t have to worry about insurance or depreciation. The cost of the occasional repair or tune up usually comes nowhere near that of filling up an entire fuel tank on an average sized vehicle.

    Of course, riding a bicycle everywhere, all the time, throughout the year is not a choice everyone makes due to various practical considerations. Even still, cycling can usually be incorporated into one’s lifestyle, assuming one is physically able to do so. Give up driving once or twice a week. Plan a weekly family ride through the River Valley. Ride, instead of drive, to errands of shorter distances. Bicycle-based lifestyles can build over time. Besides, it’s fun and addictive -- in a good way.

    Paula is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. She owns a driver’s license, but not a car.
  • Monday, April 05, 2010

    Boyle McCauley News: April 2010

    The April 2010 issue of Boyle McCauley News is now online - here is a look at some of the contents:

    * Future of McCauley School In Jeopardy
    * Historic Gem Demolished
    * How Safe is Our Neighbourhood?
    * Gardening as a Family
    * Letters To The Editor
    * Guitar Donation
    * Ghana Adventure
    * Third Eco Station Open
    * Community League Updates
    * Dining Out

    Download the entire issue in PDF format here.

    Saturday, April 03, 2010

    Money Isn't Everything

    A letter to the editor in today's St. Albert Gazette has raised controversy and sparked heated responses both on the newspaper's website and on Twitter. The letter is called Higher-earning families part of St. Albert's appeal and was written by Chris and Karleena Perry.

    The Perrys live in an upscale neighbourhood of St. Albert and are concerned about a Habitat for Humanity project going up in the city. Their letter is basically a rant saying that they deserve a better quality of life because they work hard and that having lower-income people around will reduce their quality of life and corrupt the children with drugs and a negative influence. I can almost imagine the Perrys throwing their arms up in disgust, exclaiming "There goes the neighbourhood!"

    Besides being NIMBYs of the worst order, the Perrys are woefully mistaken on a number of issues. First of all, drugs are everywhere, especially in areas where rich kids have too much money and not enough to do. Secondly, the Perrys are doing their teenage son no favour by sheltering him. Children who grow up in diverse neighbourhoods and schools - both in terms of socio-economic levels and ethnicity - actually do better academically and in life.

    I feel sorry for the Perry's son. I fear he has grown up with the idea that his money and possessions are what give him value. After all, the Perrys themselves say that their son had trouble fitting in at school - until his "friends" came over and saw their nice house and all the nice things he had. Not only does Junior not understand what the true value of a person is (such as how they treat the less fortunate - just as an example), but does not understand the true values upon which real friendships are based.

    I grew up in a reasonably well-to-do family. I had trouble "fitting in." I thought the solution would be to acquire the same toys and designer clothes the other kids had. Although I shed tears and battled with my parents over this, they stuck to their morals and taught me that people who would be my friend based on what I have, instead of who I was, were not really friends after all.

    What really offended me by the Perry's self-righteous sense of entitlement was the statement that they "deserve" to live in St. Albert. Working hard does not necessarily equal being wealthy enough to afford to live in a gated community. I know many people who work hard in often thankless jobs, particularly for various social agencies and organizations, and do not attain such material wealth. However, their contributions to society are priceless.

    Chris and Karleena, having money does not make you better people. It does not make you immune to societal problems. It puts you in a position to be able to help others. The money and wealth of this world is fleeting and temporary. It is what you do with your resources and time that counts in the long run.

    Today, I sent a financial donation to Habitat for Humanity and I look forward to some day being a volunteer on a build. Maybe it will even be in St. Albert.