From a young age, Amy Procope-Shaw wanted to make a difference in her neighbourhood.
By her own admission, the long-time York resident was “that person” who wanted to talk to everyone and make things work for the betterment of her community.
“I believe we all have a duty to our community,” she said. “We can’t really complain until we tried to make it better. We have a duty to each other and to be there for one another. I find it very fulfilling.”
A For Youth Initiative (FYI) executive board member, Procope-Shaw has seen her community go through many changes, the majority of them positive, such as a reduction in crime and increases in social services and youth involvement, she said.
Those looking to contribute positively in their communities in the coming year can go about it in many ways, she said.
“It starts very simple,” she said. “Get to know who’s in your community. If you attend different street festivals or small functions, it’s the first step in order to really help the community. To do anything effectively you need to know who’s your neighbour. When you build those types of relationships everything comes after that.”
If someone is interested in beautifying their neighbourhood, Procope-Shaw suggests getting a small group of friends together and pick a street to focus on, instead of tackling a more daunting project like a park.
“Some people are nervous and shy so they can attend something like Slam Jam (community festival) to see who are the people in your community,” she said. “Your first encounter at a community event can be a simple conversation. Those relationships are all part of community engagement.”
Cherri Hurst, archivist with the Weston Historical Society and past president and a founding member of the Weston Heritage Conservation District, said a good place to find out what organizations are in your community to become involved with is to start with offices of local councillors, MPs and MPPs.
“Look at your local newspaper or if you have kids, help out at their school or at your church,” she said. “Go to meetings, see how you can help. I would hate to see someone not become involved because they can’t find a place to help. Sometimes you have to be the leader. I find people will come out to support what you do even if they can’t help.”
For the past six years, Hurst has participated in the neighbours’ night out event on Elm Street in June, which sees large crowds of mingling residents, which also serves as a fundraiser for Frontlines, a youth organization in Weston.
Another bonus of being actively involved in your community is added security, Hurst said.
“The more people you know, the safer the place is to live,” she said. “Volunteering gives you a good appreciation of the neighbourhood. I love my neighbourhood even more since I started volunteering.”
The more you give, the more you get back is what Marion Newrick believes.
“We forget how lucky we are to live in this country,” said the executive director of Community Action Resource Centre. “Everyone has something to offer. Everyone will find something that interests them, that challenges them.”
Newrick advises those wishing to get involved in their neighbourhoods to first find out where their interest lies, then find organizations fitting it.
“In our organization, we have people volunteering their time to help newcomers learn English, to help children with homework, to help with garden work or to help a specific family with a specific need,” she said. “The commitment can be very short or many hours. You need to figure out how much time you have and don’t overextend yourself. You can look around your community to see what’s being done or do something on your own without going through a social organization.”
Newrick also suggested becoming politically aware and to stay on top of city hall happenings.
“See how your elected official is voting and what they are supporting,” she said. “Find your voice and use it.”
The best thing people can do is become involved and engaged in some way, said David McBride, chair of the Weston Village Residents’ Association.
“It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming,” he said. “Talk to neighbours, get to know people in your neighbourhood. People don’t realize what’s going on. Check The York Guardian, go to community events. It helps you to feel part of the community.”
One of the first places to seek information on active community groups is the local councillor’s office, McBride said, adding organizations such as food banks and hospitals are always looking for volunteers.
“It’s easy for people to write a cheque, but volunteers make it happen,” he said.