Below is a guest blog post by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies. A seasoned writer, Ruth was asked to write several blog posts for us to profile some of the Kerrisdale Community Centre members and our Board.
When I was asked by the Kerrisdale Community Centre Society executive to write a few profiles on some of the members who make use of the Kerrisdale Community Centre, I expected it to be an interesting, fun assignment. What I didn’t realize was how emotionally involved I would feel after hearing the stories of each person and what the community centre has brought to his or her life.
In retrospect, I should have known that there would be more to these interviews than just information gathering. On the first day of my interviews, I found myself sitting in the lobby of the community centre preparing. As a writer, I am a dedicated people watcher. As I sat there, watching the comings and goings – every person that caught my eye smiled at me or said hello. Every single one of them. No one looked at me like I didn’t belong. No one turned away from eye contact. They all came across as welcoming and friendly. This is a place that pulls people in and helps them find what they need. Whether they are newcomers or old-timers at the centre, everyone is made to feel like they matter. And with all that we are dealing with in the world these days, it’s nice to find a place that feels safe and that invites you in without judgement.
I have also had the opportunity to spend time with a few of Kerrisdale’s volunteer Board members – especially the President, Kathleen Bigsby. It is clear to me that the welcoming culture is not only encouraged from this leadership group, but they also embody it. When walking from the front door to the reception desk one day recently, it took Kathleen and I close to ten minutes to cross the approximate 50-foot space. She stopped and spoke with a young mother, she engaged with a senior she hadn’t seen in a while, and then she wanted me to see a class with young children in it. So we hopped over there for a moment, where she showed me the toddlers and spoke with an instructor who does fitness classes at the centre. Heading back to the front desk, she further acknowledged and engaged with two others. That’s hands-on (or is it heart-on) leadership.
I know from the interviews I did for these profiles that the community centre matters greatly to the people of the community. And I know how much the community matters to the Board and to the people who volunteer and work at the centre. It is a mutual love affair, where everyone brings their best self.
Think I am exaggerating? Take a read of the profiles that are going to be uploaded over the next few weeks. The Kerrisdale Community Centre means a great deal to this community. You’ll see.
This profile series is meant to share how important the community centre is to the people of Kerrisdale, and we hope to showcase a little of what goes on here. Along with classes and programs, there is a whole fragile ecosystem that relies upon the culture of the centre and the Kerrisdale Community Centre Society, the not-for-profit organization that is responsible, in partnership with the Park Board, for running the centre.
As important as the classes and programs are, what is more important is the connection and support that the people who come to the community centre find there – among the staff, volunteers and other members. For many of us, such as new parents, immigrants, youth and seniors, the world can feel like a cold and overwhelming place sometimes. Having that special place to go, where everybody knows your name (or if they don’t, they find out as soon as you walk in the door!), where you can always find a friendly face to have a chat with, where you can connect and engage, and where life doesn’t feel quite so lonely, is crucial to our emotional and physical well-being. This is what people find at the Kerrisdale Community Centre – they find a place where they belong.
While it might look like a non-descript building on a city street, the Kerrisdale Community Centre is, in fact, the heart of the neighbourhood. It really is that place where there is always someone to welcome you in, to have a cup of coffee or lunch with, and to take a program from. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been a member for decades or you just started today – you feel welcome. And isn’t that what a community does? It pulls people together and helps us to support one another. I, for one, think the world needs more of this.