By Surjit Atwal. When I wrote Why I Care About Respite Care, I raised the subject of social justice. It has been a cornerstone of my personal and professional life and it informs every decision I make.
As Community Outreach Coordinator for MLA Darryl Plecas it is my job to deal with people’s issues in the constituency of Abbotsford South, part of the community of Abbotsford, and I also act as a regular liaison with business and municipal government.
The way I have approached my job has shocked some, surprised others, but mostly it has made me a great number of new friends. I want to share my approach to social justice and community outreach with the community in the hopes that it will bring as many citizens as possible into the discussion about how we solve problems and build a better future for our whole community.
In my work so far, I have seen that sometimes we are limited because we have not taken the time to talk to one another and really get to know one another.
I have witnessed many incidents of separate groups and individuals operating and working towards solving community problems without even knowing of each others’ existence.
When I got to know the people from Mathews’ House, found out the extent of their dream, and told the leaders of the Sikh community what they were doing, I was asked to facilitate a meeting where the leaders of the Sikh community could find out more about Mathew’s House.
We arranged an open house during which Mathew’s House welcomed leaders from the Sikh temples with Chai tea and Indo-Canadian food. They were given a tour of the facility, shown a video in Punjabi and, at the end of the evening there were tears on everybody’s cheeks.
Two groups of people who were looking for ways to help disabled children and their families were brought together and now work together to achieve the same goals. One symbol of that relationship is the fact that Mathew’s House has been invited into the Sikh temples every month to raise money for their worthy cause.
In the next year, I hope to do more of this kind of work: connecting people who don’t yet know each other well, and seeing if they would like an opportunity to work together.
Below is my summary of how to make an effective community outreach operation, working out of the office of MLA Darryl Plecas. The activity was begun in fall 2013 on an informal basis. This plan puts the community outreach co-ordination on a permanent footing. We now have clear guidelines and goals. The plan demonstrates, in broad strokes, how community outreach can build relationships and come up with solutions.
The key components of the community outreach position which guide this plan are:
Listen to the concerns of the community: Be willing to listen to any group respectfully, no matter what their beliefs.
Take a non-partisan approach in all contacts.
Connect community groups with one another: act as liaison to help them understand each other’s concerns and see how they will gain if they work together rather than separately.
Work with NGOs, business organizations, schools and universities, and places of worship: every organization which brings members of the community together. Each one represents a piece of the community.
Develop good public relations by being positive, helpful, and constructive.
The guiding principle will always be social justice: what is the right thing to do.
Please feel free to comment either publicly in the comments box below or email me your thoughts.
Part One 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