It Takes a Village

Every effort, no matter the size, helps to build our communities. Several small, but important, initiatives improve the Alberta Capital Region.

It’s so simple. Maybe it’s too simple? You check in with a loved one and ask, “Does this idea sound crazy?” Even though, in most cases, the decision has already been made. You just needed to hear your innovative, community-minded idea out loud and receive that much-needed reassurance. You’re ready to give it a try no matter what. The time has come to stop considering doing something; now you just need to follow through on your master plan. That’s the process many local philanthropists shared with WE about how they turned a brilliant idea into a fully-functioning community initiative.

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For the Love of Books

Marcia Hole finished The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and felt the story of a woman who spent her youth in the foster-care system was life-altering. That’s when she had her “crazy idea.”

“I wanted to do something that wasn’t black tie or an evening event,” Hole says. “Those events do wonderful things but there’s a whole segment of the population that is excluded from that experience of being able to give back to their community [due to ticket prices].”

With support from her book club, friends and family, the Perennial Book Club was created. It held an inaugural afternoon event, called the Winter Garden Tea Party, on January 20, 2013, in the Moon Flower Room of the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert. Hole’s husband co-owns the Enjoy Centre, which helped narrow down a venue.

She says not much happens in Edmonton in January, so this gave people something to do, and it also allowed them to offer the $40 ticket to friends and family as a Christmas gift and share the experience with around 400 other people who attended the event. The Perennial Book Club focuses on using literature to build relationships and create stronger communities. While not a book club in the formal sense, attendees discussed the novel over tea. Proceeds raised through ticket sales and local sponsors went to a non-profit organization with a special connection to the book. Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) was selected, and a representative was invited to explain to attendees the organization’s goal to provide shelter, safety and hope to youth at risk.

When Hole was diagnosed with breast cancer, her plans to hold a second annual fundraiser were unfortunately put on hold. She remains very passionate about the idea and feels a realistic date for the next Perennial Book Club will be around January 2015. Keep an eye on the Perennial Book Club’s Facebook page for updates and events to come. www.facebook.com/ThePerennialBookClub

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More Than Kid Talk

Having her brother Christopher spend time in the Stollery Children’s Hospital for a rare disease called Kawasaki meant Kelley Polowy spent a lot of time there, too. She supported him as any caring and innovative four-year-old sister would. “I asked my family and Stollery staff a lot of questions,” Polowy says, now 11. “I thought about sick children and wanted to help them. One day, I told my mom that I wanted to sell my art for sick kids and that is how it all began.”

Since her first fundraising event in 2007, Polowy, along with the help of family and friends, has made crafts, jam, baked goods and more, that she sells each year either at the community hall or her home. To date, they’ve raised approximately $26,000 for the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation.

In addition to the money raised, Polowny has grown and matured through the events.

“Raising money for any organization is a lot of work, but rewarding,” Polowy says. “When you believe very strongly about a need in the community, it is so easy to organize and run an event. You learn so much and grow to be a better person for it.”

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Passion Over Experience

A couple of years ago, Jill Boychuk, a part-time dental hygienist, decided to tack on a new career: clothing design. She started EarthGroove, an activewear clothing supplier, after a nudge from her mom who said, “Do it, don’t wait.”

Boychuk keeps her support local by getting fabric from British Columbia and thread from Montreal. “Most of my materials are recycled, eco-friendly or bamboo, which is a renewable resource.”

In addition to supporting local business, and Earth-friendly concepts, she makes it a mission to offer her clothing as auction prizes to as many Edmonton fundraisers as she can. Her mom passed away from cancer about two years ago, but her mother’s inspiration lives on through her artwork that’s still displayed on some of Boychuk’s clothing designs.

See earth-groove.com for more information.

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Fill a Gap

Parent Advocates Linking Special Services (P.A.L.S.S.) was created in the Fort Saskatchewan area in 1998 by parents of children with disabilities. By connecting with various agencies in the community, the organization developed pottery classes, swimming lessons and other social programs to promote inclusion and provide support for parents and the rest of the family. Visit www.palss.ca for more information.

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Meet, Patch and Repair

Fixing a ripped pair of pants by adding a patch instead of simply throwing them out is music to Kate Spencer’s ears. Spencer is the co-ordinator of the Repairathon, an initiative that came into fruition after Spencer visited the Toronto Repairathon website. The Edmonton event has since gathered a group of about 25 volunteers with varied sewing experience to spend a couple of hours mending clothing items for others who don’t have the ability to do it themselves, or the means to pay a tailor. Spencer says the idea is not to take business away from professionals; rather, it’s a free community service volunteers provide to keep clothing out of the garbage.

The group held a family and friends event first to test things out and then held the first public Repairathon on October 27, 2013, with 40 attendees getting pants hemmed, buttons sewn and knees patched at the Abby Road Housing Co-op. The space was free since one of the volunteers lives there, but Spencer hopes to eventually gather a few sponsors, and therefore some funding, to rent out a larger space and move the idea around the city.

Check out YEGrepairathon.blogspot.ca for updates on the next event and location.

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Beautiful Music Together

Jaima Geller is the instructor of an Alberta Health Services (AHS) program called Moms, Music and More.

When she started to take her own guitar lessons about a decade ago, she thought it might be helpful to teach pregnant or new mothers in need – a teen mom or a woman with postpartum depression – how to play as well.

“Music gathers people together no matter what their differences are,” Geller says, adding that bringing women together builds their confidence if the setting is safe and comfortable. Women are chosen by AHS based on their needs and whether it’s believed they will benefit from a guitar session. Each session includes about seven one-hour classes with three to five women total.

Geller, 61, is “basically retired” and buys all the guitars with her own money for the women and lets them keep the instrument, along with a tuner and music book. “Learning this new skill really acts as affirmation that they are worthy,” she says.

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Little Free Libraries

The community of Oliver has an abundance of apartment-style homes and neighbours don’t really get to know each other, says Annalise Klingbeil, who lived in Oliver and sat on the community board. Having grown up in Calgary, Klingbeil knew of the Little Free Library project and saw its positive results in her home town.

The opportunity for Oliver to commandeer 10 newspaper boxes offered the community the chance to start up their own Little Free Libraries. With a call out to the community to help paint the boxes and provide the donations of books, by September 2013 three boxes were on the streets within Oliver’s community boundaries. The idea is to take a book and leave a book, and it’s catching on. Klingbeil says in addition to community members coming out to paint the boxes, further relationship building happens organically around the Little Free Libraries because they are perfect conversation starters. “What book are you taking, or leaving?” “How was it?” “What’s your all-time favourite book?” These simple questions help people in the Oliver community get to know one another better, creating a healthy sense of pride among neighbours. Find out more on the Facebook page. facebook.com/OliverCommunityLeague.

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Fit for Work

Wearing a power suit is liberating. Staff and volunteers of the Suit Yourself organization are more than aware of that. “The clothing has really made a difference for clients,” says Lori McConnell, Suit Yourself’s executive director. “They have gone through training, they have the skill set, but they just aren’t comfortable with how they are able to portray themselves.”

That’s where Suit Yourself comes in. The organization is aligned with 65 different social agencies who refer women to the charitable clothing provider. They just need to be looking for full-time employment and be in need, McConnell explains; otherwise the clothes provided are completely free. Suit Yourself helps more than 600 women a year.

Volunteers spend about two hours selecting clothing, shoes and accessories for each woman and aim to send each home with about 25 pieces to mix and match for a month. Once the client has obtained full-time work, she is invited back for a second visit to add to or adjust the clothing provided to be more specific to her workplace needs.

“It’s truly women helping women,” McConnell says. “We’re successful because women of all ages are able to donate their clothing to us and feel that they’re making a difference in somebody’s life.”

See www.suityourselfclothes.org for more information.

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