Finding resilience in small inspirations
In late March I was invited to speak at a Peace Luncheon in Hamilton. It was an opportunity to share my personal concerns about the need for climate change adaptation, and I did that. But I finished by describing the Lighthouse Project pilot work that is underway in Hamilton’s Beasley neighbourhood. Afterward, I was thrilled to meet people who asked me how they could use our small-scale, neighbourly approach to climate adaptation in their own communities.
We’re just a few months into our pilot and excited by what we see. Each of the Lighthouse pilot Animators use strategies that best suit their GTHA site and local objectives. Perhaps the simplest way to describe these approaches is “top down,” in Brampton; “a meeting of the middle” in Hamilton’s Beasley neighbourhood, and “bottom up” in Toronto’s St James Town. Regardless of their strategy, all of our Resilience Animators are leveraging or creating networks of social capital that will make their local communities more resilient to the multiple challenges brought by extreme weather and other climate related risks and hazards.
As the pilot’s project manager, I am particularly struck by the range of interactions that inspire the Animators’ work. Those telling moments also begin to describe the breadth of the network building in which we’re all engaged. From Toronto, Lidia sends me an excited text about her volunteer who is a newcomer to St James Town from Afghanistan. “Sameia is clear that she wants to volunteer with anyone who is doing something good in her community,” says Lidia. “I am totally in love with her. That is how resilience is built!”
Lidia’s process is one person at a time—finding residents in places like ESL classes or Homework Clubs. She invites local service providers and community leaders to participate in most everything she does, but resident participation is her first priority. Her pilot steering committee is made up mostly of people who live in St James Town’s apartment towers. Their first meeting is set for mid-April when they will begin to structure their community action plan or hub. The beautiful Anglican church of St Peter and St Simon the Apostle will host their discussions.
In early March, Beatrice hosted her first two Lighthouse community meetings at Beasley’s St John’s Lutheran church. Participants gathered to map the assets and social need that would become urgent considerations in the case of an emergency. Staff from Hamilton’s Emergency Management Office and Pubic Health department helped to frame the issues. Commitments from Information Hamilton as well as from public health staff mean that this resilience work will live on beyond our pilot, and that in itself is very exciting. But I think that Beatrice’s personal inspiration came from the very successful conversation she facilitated between a colleague—who has long struggled to inspire resilience action in her own faith community—and Michelle, whose experience with the Brampton pilot makes her a superb resource for strategizing approaches to faith groups.
While all of the pilot sites explore the role that faith sites can play as resilience anchors in their own neighbourhoods, Brampton’s pilot is directly focused on faith groups, their buildings and the potential of their volunteers as emergency responders through training that’s based on Brampton’s thriving Community Emergency Response Volunteer (CERV) program. Michelle was especially delighted when a participant at the Hamilton meeting told us that she had once been a member of Hamilton’s CERVs, a group she’d particularly enjoyed and sorely missed since it was disbanded when funding stopped. I have a strong sense that our pilot, along with Michelle’s enthusiasm, will inspire Hamilton to take a fresh look at the contribution CERV volunteers can make to city resiliency.
All of us are inspired by the multiple co-benefits of making community hubs or plans with people who may come together as relative strangers, but find common ground universal concerns around keeping themselves, their families and their neighbours safe. In the process, relationships are formed, allies are discovered, and everyone shares great ideas that don’t necessarily have emergency response at their core. Often they’re about the simple activity of making friends, and so a block party can be as relevant to building resilience as emergency training.
Lidia often reminds me that community engagement is long work: we must first show people that what we’re making is good, and then they’ll want to join. My recent inspiration comes from discovering, as I did at the Peace Luncheon, that when we can talk with accuracy about the work we are doing, new connections appear. Our Lighthouse animators are building projects that are very much worth joining.