East Scarborough Storefront – The Little Community that Could

I just finished reading East Scarborough Storefront’s book – The Little Community That Could – http://www.thestorefront.org/ourbook/, and it was very inspiring! I must admit, I only knew a little bit about this organization before I read the book, even though its in my backyard and it embodies the community development ideals that I care so much about. I knew that it was a hub model, where many agencies provide services under the same roof so that individuals can access many diverse service in a ‘one-stop shop’. I knew that the storefront was the first hub model, and now that is being replicated all across Toronto because it is effective and cost-efficient service delivery. I knew that the Storefront was a project of Tides Canada, meaning that it isn’t a legal charity on its own and therefore is released from the burdens of many administrative/legal/operational duties that come from being a registered charity.

    What I didn’t know, and what inspired me the most, is the depth of its commitment to community collaboration and development, seen through its decision-making model, HR policies, community engagement strategies, and work in partnership with residents. East Scarborough Storefront exists to foster collaboration leading to collective impact! Collaboration is critical to solving complex social problems, and so the role of ‘relationship-building’ is needed to keep this process moving.

   I especially LOVE the volunteer model. Most traditional volunteer coordination is done to support the organization. East Scarborough Storefront does volunteer recruitment/retention/coordination to support the COMMUNITY! One of the ‘services’ they provide is a pool of quality volunteers who can help out at any community events or activities that a resident is organizing. Therefore, if you are a resident needing some volunteers to support your activity, you don’t need to start from scratch in terms of recruiting, screening, training, retaining volunteers. This makes it much easier for a community resident to take the first steps in starting a project, knowing this support exists.

   Anyways, I can’t say enough great things about this book. Read it!

Candy Chang again – Philosophers Library …

Another post about Candy Chang, because I have become very interested in her work. I love this project of hers, to turn this old abandoned gas station into a ‘philosopher’s library’ and she’s using a crowdsourcing strategy to select books and have them personalized. Of course, I couldn’t resist! I love books and I love reading, so it was very difficult for me to pick the one book that has inspired me. I finally did pick one, which you can see if book #259 – http://thephilosopherslibrary.com/library/?success=1. Maybe its a little bit cliché in terms of it being a ‘self-help’ book, but I have read it over and over again, and whenever I feel restless and stressed, as soon as I start reading it, I find myself and feel grounded. It has been a book beside my bed, now for 10 years or so, and I go to it time and time again.

So I only picked The Power of Now for this project, but here are a few other books that have inspired me greatly:

-Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels – I love this book and have read it three or four times. I’m not a huge fiction reader, but I love the metaphor and writing and the description of Toronto.
-Night – Elie Wiesel – amazing story of resilience during the Holocaust
-Born to Run – Christopher MacDougall – I just read this past year but I felt so inspired that I know I need to read it again. I’m not really a Runner in the capital R sense of the word, but I still LOVED this book

I love libraries, and I am most definitely a super-user of our most fantastic library in Toronto – the Toronto Public Library. Most people don’t know that our local library has the highest circulation rate per capita and is the largest neighborhood-based library system in the WORLD. I am proud to be contributing to this statistic. I love the library for many reasons – not just the books, but also the community space, the accessibility as a space where people can go for free and be comfortable together. But most importantly, I do love the books – the holds system is amazing where so many books can come through the system and into your hands within a few days to a week. Another library project that inspires me and is so local/neighborhood based is the Little Library movement – these have been popping up in Toronto and several in my neighborhood – http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/.

On that note, I am on holidays and have brought many fun books to read – I must say goodbye and get started reading!

Community Engagement – neighborhood signs in Toronto

I love this heart-warming story that was featured last month about neighborhood engagement on Atlas Ave. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/06/11/chalkboard_notes_on_atlas_ave_brighten_neighbourhood.html

Everyone is blogging and facebooking and engaging online, which is great (and of course I am doing it too – connecting online) but I love that this guy is back-to-the-basics in terms of connecting with his neighbors with chalk in his window. Love it …

Candy Chang – “Before I die…”

I just watched Candy Chang’s Ted talk – http://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to.html. Very inspirational, very moving. I know there is a whole movement about reclaiming public space where people are taking action over space, through street art, guerilla gardening etc. I have loved (and continue to love) this movement and always appreciated the courage that people must have to reclaim public space. 

   What I love about Candy Chang’s “Before I die” project is that is so hopeful, asking people to state their hopes for the future. Death could be at any time, and we need to reclaim the life we have, each and every day. We need to live authentically, and that will look different for each person, but it is choosing how we spend our time. I love Candy Chang’s quote – “Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationship with others.” Volunteering and community development is all about these two critical factors – time and relationships. In a world that feels sometimes like it revolves around money, recognizing and reminding ourselves that time and relationships are priority is vitally important. None of us know how long we are on this earth, and with that in mind, I am trying to live authentically and ethically day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute.

   And my answer? “Before I die, I want to …. see my children grow up and be successful in their life (whatever success looks like to them). Before I die, I want to …. see volunteerism be recognized as critically important to the non-profit sector and social change, see organizational practices be more inclusive and inspiring and because of this, see volunteering rates grow exponentially.

Engagement vs Development – Semantics Matter

I just changed my tag line to “Reflections on volunteer and community development in the nonprofit landscape”. I wrestled with the word ‘development’ – should I say ‘reflections on volunteer and community development in the non-profit landscape’ or ‘reflections on volunteer and community engagement in the non-profit landscape’? Engagement vs development? Why did I choose development? In the ‘volunteer management’ world (and volunteer management is the most dominant term used) the word ‘engagement’ has become popular – thinking beyond ‘managing’ volunteers (the operational nuts and bolts of running and volunteer program – recruitment, screening, recognition, evaluation etc) to engaging volunteers where they have a rewarding and meaningful experience through volunteering. I am totally behind this concept, and I believe that volunteer management and engagement are not mutually exclusive but integrated, and that volunteer management is 101 while volunteer engagement is 2.0. Volunteers can’t have a meaningful experience if you don’t have the volunteer ‘management’ nuts and bolts in place – for example, if they show up to volunteer and don’t have a job to do or they don’t ever receive feedback.
However, as I say all this, ‘engagement’ to me is an act in the moment. I think about an ‘engaging movie’ or ‘engaging someone in a discussion’ – its instantaneous, it happens and then the engagement is over. What is left is a feeling. The term ‘development’ to me, is a longer-term ‘work in progress’ with a concrete end result in mind. Development is about improvement, not just an instantaneous experience. I googled development and the free dictionary defines it as “progression from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature, or complex form or stage: the development of an idea into reality; the evolution of a plant from a seed; attempts made to foster social progress.” I love this – work that is complex, behind the scenes, and could take awhile. But with patience, beauty is born. That is why I chose to use ‘development’ in my tagline.