By Surjit Atwal. In Social Justice And Community Outreach I wrote that, during the first year of my job as Community Outreach Coordinator for MLA Darryl Plecas, my main focus has been on reaching out to the community. The easy part of reaching out is introducing myself and starting new relationships. Building those introductions into meaningful relationships takes commitment, time, and resources. Relationships don’t happen in a vacuum. They are built one conversation at a time. If the conversations continue, before long, the relationships grow, and begin to create new commitments, new ideas and new solutions to old problems.
I believe that when we talk to each other, we discover we have much more in common than we have that divides us.
I have had so many positive experiences this year that have come from bringing people together. When they meet and can explain what they are concerned about, it is often possible for them to solve a problem together. For example, the Abbotsford Child Development Centre was in need of money to buy toys for the children they serve. They approached me wondering if the government could help. However, I knew the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association regularly donates to charity. I contacted the executive director of the ADBA. They agreed to donate the proceeds from the climbing wall they set up at this year’s Berry Festival to the Child Development Centre, and in August the Child Development Centre received $2000 to buy the toys they needed. This was one of my proudest achievements this year.
I am always surprised when people are reluctant to talk to each other because they believe they are on opposite sides of an issue. But my experience has been that it is extremely fruitful to be ready to talk to anyone, regardless of age, race, religion, ability, opinion, or any of the other things that seem to divide us. When people feel heard, they feel respected, and when they feel respected, they are willing to listen to good ideas. Everything begins to work better and more harmoniously.
When we really understand each other’s concerns, it is much easier to find the right help. Sometimes, people can help each other, and sometimes, they do need municipal, provincial, or federal help. An important part of helping is knowing where the solution might be. For example, when a group of truckers approached me because they needed help with truck parking, I knew that was a city issue, so I connected them with the mayor.
My plan for this year is to keep bringing people together to talk. I began last year to build relationships with every non-profit organization in the community and so far I have reached about 45 percent of them. My in the next two years, to reach the rest and grow all the relationships I’ve already established. I have been happy that when I explain my plan to the non-profit organizations they are very interested in coming on board.
There are a number of initiatives which will help to build on the momentum which has developed as a result of the work so far. Three specific things I will be doing are:
These other initiatives include:
1. Resuming the ‘Campus of Care Committee, which met in early 2014 and took a summer break in July-August.
2. Resuming regular visits to seniors’ facilities in order to listen to their concerns and inform them about government-provided benefits and services. Families have also been invited to join the sessions to learn about seniors’ issues. Since the Sikh community typically does not use or participate in seniors’ facilities, I will also take advantage of the mayor’s offer to work with him to build a facility that could be specific to Sikh values and needs.
3. Engaging the Abbotsford School Board on disability issues. There have been some contacts over the last year with School Trustees and the School Board in general. Now I want to move forward to work with them to create written policies for better recognition of the needs of disabled students.
Keeping the conversations going is made easier by knowing that MLA Dr. Plecas supports the plan for outreach. Having the use of the MLA’s office boardroom to conduct meetings and hold ongoing discussions about community issues has proved invaluable in building the relationships I started. When the groups do not know each other, I am able to listen and facilitate their meeting. New relationships are now growing between community groups and individuals which, though they knew each other, had never really worked much together. I see this as community building at its best. Real human relationships are built; social justice and positive social change emerge from those relationships.
My deepest hope is that the relationships we have managed to build, and which are growing every week and month before our eyes, will transform this community one issue at a time as community members themselves drive the agenda and work together, always with a commitment to social justice.
Please feel free to comment either publicly in the comments box below or email me your thoughts.
Part Three of Four
Surjit Atwal is a graduate of the University of the Fraser Valley and holds a BA in Political Science. He is currently the Community Outreach Coordinator for the office of Provincial MLA Darryl Plecas. His columns appear regularly on Abbotsford Today