Embracing Culture Enriches Community

December 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

I love my job with the City of Grande Prairie, but rarely touch on it here. That’s mainly because this blog is intended to develop content toward an inspirational/motivational book(s) and part of my work-life balance – exploring my creative side.

This time, I’ll make an exception.

Two amazing experiences this past week underline why I love promoting my community and working to make it a better place to live while on the job and as a volunteer.

First my colleague Chelsea Lewis, our Communications and Research Co-ordinator, and I met with the Grande Prairie Centre for Newcomers.

The agency wanted our input on how it can help immigrants get more involved in the community. What a joyful group to connect with – people whose native lands are as diverse as Lebanon, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Mexico, and our own homeland.

We’ve already been working with this organization as part of our Citizen Engagement Program, activateGP. Earlier this fall, we also had the delightful experience of speaking to an English-as-a-second-language combined class through the Council for Lifelong Learning where we encountered a veritable United Nations of students.

Our meeting last week with the Centre for Newcomers was truly inspiring. While we were there to help them assist their clients, a lot of the richness of the discussion was really around how connecting with the traditions from other countries will add a special flavour to our community.

This will be mutually beneficial in a city represented by at least 100 cultures.

We heard about how having celebrations involving music, food and dancing would resonate with people from other parts of the globe.

My favourite part was when the Centre’s employee from Lebanon spoke up and said, “In my homeland, you don’t need music to get us dancing, you just have to start clapping.”

The next day, it was off to the Grande Prairie Aboriginal Circle of Services. We were using this organization as a focus group as part of our research for the Citizen Engagement Program.

Although I have lived near First Nations reserves almost my entire adult life and have worked with various Aboriginal leaders, I’d never participated in a smudging ceremony. It was a first for Chelsea, too.

Smudging is the use of smoke to cleanse the mind and create a positive, peaceful mindset. Various herbs can be used. In this case, it was sage. I chose to accept the smoke so that I could truly share in the learning and reflection of the moment.

I was honoured to connect with members of the Aboriginal community in this manner. How could you not feel at home when you exchange hugs as part of the welcoming ceremonies.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Darlene Cardinal, who led the group in prayer. I learned there is even a right way to hold hands with the people next to you during this ritual.

It was also interesting participating in some of the other Aboriginal traditions during the session. One notable aspect was how a feather was passed around and held by each speaker in the circle.

This demonstrates respect for the person talking at the time.

During the meeting, we had a lot of great dialogue on how the municipality can benefit with a stronger partnership with the Aboriginal community.

Reflecting on the outcome of both sessions left me with an incredible feeling of excitement.

On one hand, I saw how Grande Prairie has much to gain by embracing the traditions of other countries. On the other, we have much to learn from the descendents of peoples who have occupied this land for thousands of years.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to embrace the cultural fabric of the city as part of promoting citizen engagement. Knowing what makes its people tick will help me do a better job of connecting to all people.

Maybe I’ll be an improved dancer to the music of another nation. On second thought, I’m better off sampling different cuisines!

Taking Up the Torch

November 26, 2012 § 5 Comments

“I am obliged to contribute if I care enough.” – Trenton Perrott, 1957-2012, in an excerpt from his personal journal, September-October.

How often have you attended an event and felt inspired by a speaker only to do nothing as a result?

So often we feel momentarily engaged and then return to our routine, not motivated to make a change. The words above are ones I won’t ever forget. They will assuredly make a difference for me and others.

Sadly, I could not receive the message directly from the author.

On Saturday, they were delivered by Trenton’s brother, Dale, as Grande Prairie celebrated the life of a significant community builder, particularly in the arts and culture and business sectors.

Dale went on to say that Trenton, who lost his two-year battle with cancer earlier this month, had it backwards – that he did care a lot about many things – his community, country and family topped the list.

Trenton touched people in many different ways. As a fellow manager in my service area at the City of Grande Prairie, we had regular interaction, particularly since he oversaw the website as well as advocacy initiatives and I’m Manager of Marketing and Communications.

I always appreciated Trenton’s thirst for strategic planning, his passion for history and politics, and his vision for creating change. He was a mentor to colleagues at all levels and got the most out of those around him with his quiet leadership.

Why will the words from Trenton’s journal make a difference to me? He walked the talk. Trenton was a model of courage and class as he dealt with his disease. He lived his final months with a level of dignity I’ve never witnessed.

Even in his waning time with us, Trenton continued to do as much work as he could. He encouraged me and others to do more in the workplace and within the community.

In August, he invited me to attend a Rotary meeting with him. Not just any Rotary meeting. A long-time Rotarian, Trenton was one of the initiators of the new After Five club in Grande Prairie. He was even willing to pay my membership.

We had a good, long chat before the meeting. I always cherished my discussions with Trenton. As I learned on Saturday, I would not be alone in often finding myself in long, drawn-out but rewarding talks with Trenton.

Unfortunately, all my dialogue with Trenton was contained to the workplace so I didn’t get a chance to share any of the wine and scotch for which he is renowned for enjoying.

It would be the last time we spoke at any length. I could tell there wasn’t much time left for Trenton, but that didn’t stop him from sharing even more ideas and demonstrating how much he cared about his workplace and colleagues.

Of course, he didn’t stop there. Trenton arranged for me to speak to the Rotary group in October about the City’s Citizen Engagement Program, activateGP, just a few weeks before the initiative launched on Nov. 5.

I wish he could’ve been there to hear me speak in more than spirit and attend the kick-off event, too.

But he knew how important this initiative is to me as the project leader and the municipality. It ties in with so much he believed in – community involvement, partnerships, connecting people, and making the place you live a better place to be.

And new features on the new website Trenton so much wanted to see introduced last February contribute to involving residents. I’m thrilled he and his team saw that project through to fruition.

I don’t know that I will follow through and join Rotary at this time with two other significant volunteer positions already on my plate. I do know that I will be even more driven to make a difference in the community.

And I think that is all Trenton really expected of me – that I would realize I had more within me.

I was honoured to be asked to assist in the production of the video for Saturday’s tribute. In the process, I had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes with Joanne, Trenton’s wife, another example of class and strength.

She shared with me that Trenton had spoken of how he had unfinished work to do.

I assured her that others would pick up the torch.

I will be one of them. Rest in peace, Trenton. Your legacy will live on.

Thankful For The Small Things

July 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

“Time has a way of showing us what really matters.” ~ Margaret Peters

I’m not one to take things for granted. I’m eternally appreciative for what I have – my family and friends, a most satisfying career, good health beyond being diabetic, and a bevy of interests to keep life fun.

Mother Nature forced an unexpected extended vacation at the end of June and a reminder to be grateful for the small things.

Joyce and I were returning from a vacation on Vancouver Island and were driving through torrential rain in the interior of B.C on June 23. We phoned ahead to Valemount, an hour west of Jasper, to book a hotel for the evening.

Just as well we did. Highway 16 east to Jasper and west toward Prince George were closed – a washed out road and mudslide respectively.

Once we arrived at the Super 8 in Valemount, there was a brief window of opportunity to head home when the road re-opened briefly. But we were already settled for the evening and thought we could leave the next day.

Wrong! Repeated delays throughout that Sunday meant we would be staying at least one more day.

Other options such as heading south to Kamloops and then east to Calgary were not in the cards as there were road closures around Revelstoke. Driving into the U.S. and back up through Alberta was a no-go as we didn’t have our passports with us.

Another option suggested was to drive south to Little Fort and west to 100 Mile House, and up through B.C. Bridge and ferry outages would prevent that.

But we did not feel stuck. Quite the opposite.

Valemount is a pretty town. And we would learn there are friendly, helpful and welcoming residents, who would soon incur their own difficulties – the community’s water system was knocked out of commission due to flooding. A local state of emergency was declared.

That didn’t stop a local pointing us to a store where we could buy water or residents welcoming visitors into their homes after hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts reached capacity.

The general manager at the Super 8 was still smiling after a 20-hour shift (some of the hotel’s staff couldn’t get to work as they live on the other side of the mudslide on the way to Prince George).

There was almost a carnival-like atmosphere as visitors wandered around the town, approaching complete strangers to see if they had news on when the highway would be re-opened.

I was amused that a local helicopter company was quick to react with an entrepreneurial spirit by promoting their services on the side of the highway.

Switching on the television news on the Saturday evening made us feel even more thankful.

Flooding in southern B.C. had wiped out numerous homes and put countless   people on evacuation notice. There were stories about forest fire activity in Colorado and Newfoundland. A whitewater rafting accident on the Kicking Horse River had claimed a life.

Yes, we were inconvenienced and would not make it back to work on schedule.

Oh well. We were safe, sound and still basking in the glow of a wonderful vacation that took us around Vancouver Island, over to Mayne Island and on to Richmond, a neighbouring city to Vancouver.

Meanwhile, that same weekend, my friend Natalie Harper, a public relations specialist in Edmonton, made a post on her Facebook page that seemed so fitting to connect to this post:

“I’m convinced that one of the key variables to feeling happy is surrounding yourself with happy, positive and inspired people – the people who uplift you, and you uplift in return,” she wrote.

“I’ve learned I don’t want to be around negative ‘downer’ people – people who are users; people who take others for granted; people who complain about everything; people who don’t appreciate what they have; and people who don’t at least TRY and better themselves, their community, and their life.

Sadly, there are so many people like this out there. But, we can control who we want in our lives. Step one for me is keeping the shiny, happy people around, and giving the ‘downers’ a boot!”

Natalie is right on. It’s okay to feel down. We just don’t need to take others with us. And most often, realizing there are others worse off than us should snap us back to how good most of us really have things.

Communities Need Love, Too

February 27, 2012 § 4 Comments

Over the past few weeks, with St. Valentine’s Day being celebrated in February, people around the world have focused on love and how to express it.

For me, after being married for almost 26 years, I’ve come to know that love in a relationship is something that is nurtured by both people involved. It continues to evolve and you see it illustrated in different ways, physically, through gestures or words.

Does love extend beyond individuals to larger groups of people, to communities? Do people have a relationship with the place they live?

I think so. It gives me goose bumps every time I hear of someone performing a random act of kindness. It brings tears to my eyes when I see someone recognizing they can make a difference to those around them.

Jody Kettyle is someone who realized she could do her own part to make Grande Prairie a better place by focusing on the good news – which there is plenty of – that doesn’t make headlines.

She started the Kinder Gentle Side of Grande Prairie Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/groups/334373066581266/

It has 360 members as I write. I’ve included some of the entries below. But first, I thought I would share a bit of Jody’s story.

Like me, Jody has lived in Grande Prairie twice. My job as Manager of Marketing and Communications with the City involves promoting the municipality and the community. In her job as a delivery driver, she sees and hears of negative things that can and do happen anywhere. She wanted to create a forum for people to celebrate what’s good here.

“There are a lot of wonderful things that happen in this city, but unfortunately happy, good things don’t sell papers,” she told me. “I came home on my birthday and saw the wonderful greetings people had put on my Facebook wall, and I was feeling the love. I wanted to share that feeling with as many people as I could so I started the group on January 5th. Someone told me once to be the change I wanted to see. I have wanted to do something like this for a very long time. I am so happy to live in this city and even more so now that I feel the emphasis is definitely shifting to the more loving, caring side of humanity.”

Jody wishes there could be a good news channel staffed with reporters who circulate through the community looking for the wonderful things people are doing.

“I guess I am a bit of a dork and a dreamer but it won’t stop me from believing we should celebrate the good things,” she says.

Here are some recent posts I wanted to share:

Ruth Hamm (Post 1): I am amazed by the huge hearts of the people of Grande Prairie. Three of us from Grande Prairie leave for Uganda in 3 days to do some relief work in a village as well as work with street children in Kampala where 50% of the children live on the street.

Individuals that I do not even know have come through with huge hearts and generosity. Thank-you hardly seems adequate for how this project has been blessed by you. May you feel blessed in return.

Ruth Hamm (Post 2): Today as I was busy trying to settle my clients prior to leaving for Uganda for a few weeks, one of them called and asked me to come by his home for a bit. As I was preparing to leave after our chat he handed me 2 balls with the Canadian flag on them. He had gone to the Dollar Store to purchase them for the street kids I am going to work with in Kampala!! I just wanted to cry as I accepted them…this from a man who himself was homeless up until a few weeks ago.

Michelle Wurtz Dana Wall: A wonderful story. I went to the Co-op with my daughter and grabbed a few things. When I was standing in line, I realized I’d left my purse in the car. I asked the lady if I could leave my stuff there and she could ring in the next guy… no prob…When I got back with my purse the lady in front of me paid for my groceries for me!!! Wow!! All she said was “pay it forward”.

Jen Simons: I would just like to thank everyone who stepped up over the last couple of days to help out those affected by the cold snap. So many people have given up their own time to be out in the cold rescuing others with boosts and rides, not because they were obligated to, but out of the goodness of their hearts; I hope they know how appreciated they are.

Tracey Matchett Silliker: I go to Sun Capsule fitness and I went for a tan and left my gold necklace hanging in the tanning bed. I did not realize I had left it there until the next morning. The necklace means a lot to me as my hubby bought it for me for our 12th anniversary. I called them first thing and the lady said she didn’t see anything. So after dropping my son at school I went to the gym…. And after looking, it was in the desk taped to a paper with my name on it. Someone could have easily taken it but thankfully someone kind found it and did the right thing. I was almost in tears when they found it 🙂

Darlene M. Astle: I just want to shout out a big ‘Thank You’ to a fellow GP resident who came to my house yesterday to drop off a chopping block for firewood. My husband was out at the bank to get some cash to pay the guy but wasn’t back in time, so the nice guy gave it to me free of charge! It’s refreshing to know that there are still kind people around to help when you need it! :).

Patricia Colosimo-Andreeff: I have had a very rough 2011. Out of the blue, a yoga-instructor friend of mine invited me to her classes for free. Her friend offered me the same gift. OMG! Totally unexpected and right what I needed.

Janice Kretzer-Prysunka:  Two nights ago my crazy golden retriever found an open gate and took off … The coldest night and he’s off by himself. We looked and looked, posted on Facebook and called the radio stations. Very kind people in my neighborhood recognized him and noticed he was loose. They watched as he found a dryer vent across from their house to warm up under and then they called him over (he came of course, he’s a retriever!) I was so relieved to get their call and thankful that someone noticed a serious situation and took action!

Vicki Vienneau: I would like to give props to DeAnne Conway-Podolchyk!! DeAnne offered to purchase a bed for a lady with cancer who is sleeping on an air mattress!!! We definitely need many more people like her in the world 🙂 She totally made someone’s day and is going to make a huge difference in that person’s life :).

Angie Kipke:  A huge THANK YOU to my neighbour for snow plowing my driveway yesterday. I so appreciate it!

Meanwhile, this past Sunday evening, a gathering of 40 residents assembled for the first gpsoup event, an initiative that emanated from the City of Grande Prairie’s Love for Cities workshop. After a meal of soup and bread, participants voted on ideas for projects that were brought forward at the meeting.

The $10 collected from attendees at the inaugural event will go toward a bird house building project with kindergarten students (A total of $402.60).

The gpsoup (check out www.gpsoup.com, #gpsoup on twitter or http://www.facebook.com/groups/334373066581266/#!/gpsoup) concept is intended to be an ongoing initiative.

Congratulations to Heather Renner and Lloyd Piehl for taking the leadership to spearhead its development.

Perhaps they have adapted the famous John F. Kennedy quote for local purposes – they are doing for their community without asking what will be done for them.

Investing In Community Pays

May 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

Okay, so when I began co-writing this blog, my intent was to keep to topics that are not at all related to my job. I prefer to explore ideas and thoughts that are more from my creative side – that are inspirational or motivational.

However, I couldn’t help but touch on a subject that has some relevance to my position with the City of Grande Prairie after MoneySense Magazine recently released its fifth annual Best Places to Live list. On its website, this past week, the magazine focussed on the bottom 10 and referenced them as the Worst Places to Live.

I’m not going to discuss the merits of the placement of the communities or the rating criteria. I’ve lived and worked or attended post-secondary in four of the cities on the list, and visited many others.

I do find it unfortunate that a place would be dubbed a “worst place to live” by people from the outside who’ve likely never set foot there. Raw data, statistics and analysis only go so far.

It’s also disappointing when people who live in a place cited on the list, or anywhere for that matter, make negative comments about their community when they have no thought or desire to be part of the so-called solution.

I sometimes ask myself why people remain in a community if it is so bad.

I love my country and I am proud of what it has to offer. I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve lived across three provinces and don’t compare one spot with the other – some things are better in one and vice-versa.

A community is really what you make of it. The results of surveys and polls are what you make of them, too.

Certainly, they can present opportunities to spur improvement through the information they bring to light. They also provide the impetus for people to look at where they live and say, “That’s fine information, thanks. We are proud of our community.”

Let’s face it, not every city or town can be rated as Number One.

Throughout my career, I’ve adopted more of a ‘home is where you hang your hat’ philosophy. There has only been one location with immediate family present and just for a short time, at that.

My focus has always been in staying in that place on its own merits and for employment reasons, of course.

I’ve volunteered at every stop along my career path and believe that if you expect to get anything out of the community, you should do your part to invest in it.

Essentially, we have four choices: we can be satisfied with our surroundings. We can work for the betterment of the place, we can do nothing and just complain, or we can move on, hoping for something better elsewhere. Some people will always find negativity with their situation.

These published ratings do reveal some remarkable data. However, there are even uncontrollable aspects like weather factored in to the ratings. While some things like household income are tangible, how do you measure culture?

Sure, it was a feather in the cap of Grande Prairie when it was fourth in the MoneySense Best Places list in 2006.

I chosen to move here from a location I also loved – Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. When I moved here in 2007, that very favourable MoneySense rating from the previous year provided some greater insight into the community since I was last here, but was not an influence.

Does the fact that Grande Prairie is now much lower in 2010 make it a far worse place to live? No. For one thing, the number of locations being rated has grown significantly. As well, new facilities and projects have improved recreation, culture and social services offerings.

There are always possibilities for any community to better itself, for the quality of life to be enhanced. Even the top-rated cities can score higher in some categories in ensuing years.

However, I don’t know how many times I have heard people wonder what difference they can make individually.

Poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron reminds us: “Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something.”

If you could improve your community, how would you go about it?

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