Advocacy and family services programs at House of Friendship

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In my last blog about advocacy at the house of friendship, I talked about advocacy in our residential programs and with our chaplaincy director, Michael Hackbusch. Today I want to talk about advocacy at the community level, with our family programs.

Advocacy work is something the House of Friendship has been focusing on more and more since our last strategic plan. When we developed our current strategic plan last year, over 400 people were consulted and over one third of those consulted were program participants. What we heard over and over was that people wanted House of Friendship to speak up more in the community to target the root causes of poverty. While we’ve been doing advocacy work for a long time, now ‘speaking up’ is actually in our mission statement, so it’s going to be a bigger focus in the next few years.

Though they’ve been quiet about it, our family programs have been doing advocacy since they began. Family programs at the House of Friendship include our four community centres (Chandler Mowat, Courtland Shelley, Kingsdale, and Sunnydale), as well as the camp sponsorship program. To get some background on each community centre, you can read previous blog posts here, here, here, and here.

In a lot of ways, the community centres are advocacy hubs by their very nature—they provide places for people to come together, have fun, and support each other. This sounds abstract but it’s very important; when people are part of a community they have better access to social networks and resources, and can more easily fulfill their needs. Neighbours who care about each other help each other out, and when there’s a serious issue facing the entire neighbourhood, a community that advocates together is much stronger than a single person.

People gather at Sunnydale for food distribution on a Thursday.

One example of the community advocating for their needs occurred with the building of the Chandler Mowat community centre. The House of Friendship partnered with the City of Kitchener had plans to build a new facility for Chandler Mowat in 2006. When the city of Kitchener proposed delaying the project, community members from Chandler Mowat organized a delegation to council and convinced council to overturn their decision, resulting in the centre being built on time. This is a great example of community advocacy because it shows how House of Friendship staff can provide people with space and resources to advocate for their own needs, which can be empowering and quite effective.

A more current example of community advocacy is happening at Sunnydale right now, where community centre staff, staff from Waterloo Region Housing, and staff from Lifechange Adventures are supporting community members on Albert Street as they apply for an Aviva fund grant for a new playground. Last year their playground was removed when it was deemed unsafe. Kids in the neighbourhood don’t have easy access to another park in the area. Residents identified the need to replace the playground and allow for multigenerational use, with areas for kids, teenagers, and adults. The grant application is resident-driven, but with the support of experienced grant-writers at the community centre and other partnering organizations. The Aviva Fund is based on online voting, so please support the playground by clicking here to get to their page! Registering takes a few seconds, and then you can sign in and vote every day for the great idea. Trust me, if I took the time to register you can believe that it’s a simple process for potentially big returns.

At Courtland Shelly, youth and kids took charge when they became frustrated with the state of their basketball court, a staple in the community. Doreen, the coordinator at Courtland Shelly, wrote the following:

This past summer, our Youth Outreach Worker assisted the older youth to meet with City of Kitchener staff to ask for improvements to the basketball courts in the local park. The youth agreed to help maintain the courts by picking up garbage and the City of Kitchener staff fixed the backboards and hoops, and repainted the lines. A meeting with the Mayor of Kitchener was also arranged with the youth so they could explain what it means to them to have the basketball courts maintained.

What a great way to get youth involved in advocating for their neighbourhood. Instead of adults advocating for them, they learned how to take responsibility for their neighbourhood and lobby for their needs.

Youth at the Courtland Shelly community centre participate in the ribbon cutting for their improved basketball court.

On the other end of the spectrum, advocacy can take the form of supporting individuals as they navigate systems that are new to them. Linda, the program coordinator at Sunnydale community centre, sent me the following story:

A woman with six children was abandoned, without warning, by her husband.  The woman was shocked, confused and worried about her future and that of her children.  Her husband had been responsible for all of the family’s finances and business, even the making of phone calls.  The woman’s responsibilities had been to look after the children, cook and care for their home.  At the time that her husband left, neither she nor her children spoke much English. Shortly after her husband’s departure she was in a car accident, causing additional stress and a loss of transportation.  She also couldn’t submit an insurance claim since the car was not insured in her name.

This would certainly be an overwhelming situation for anyone. At Sunnydale, staff and volunteers came up with a strategy to support the family. The first step was to help with immediate needs, such as food, transportation, and counseling. The next step involved finding a volunteer who could attend appointments with the woman as a support and advocate. Her situation involved meetings for things like legal help, income and housing assistance, her children’s school, and health care. With limited ability to speak English, having someone helping her who was familiar with the situation was crucial. Sunnydale staff also enrolled the woman and her family in ESL classes. Linda reports that these steps mean that today the family is more settled and independent. The Sunnydale community centre had a big impact in how this woman and her family were able to cope with a difficult situation, and come out the other side able to better support themselves.

These stories represent just some of the ways our family programs make a difference in the communities around them. Advocacy work can take the form of supporting an individual to become more independent, or giving a community the space and resources to advocate for themselves. Most importantly, having a space for neighbours to meet each other and participate in community events helps everyone.

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One Response to “Advocacy and family services programs at House of Friendship”

  1. Matching Fund Project: the Sunnydale community garden | Waterloo Neighbourhood Matching Fund Says:

    […] To read more about the Sunnydale community centre, community building, and advocacy, click here. […]

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