The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Community association fee waived to increase membership

Hayhurst thumbThe Federation of Calgary Communities says that successful, healthy communities are generally those with active and sustained membership and involvement of community residents.

However, members of the Evergreen Community Association have identified community engagement as a challenge, yet one that they are planning to address head-on.

Carolyn Houghton-Grabill, social director for the community association, said this year's community barbecue had to be postponed because she couldn't get enough volunteers to help out at the event.

"It's really discouraging when you can't even get nine people to step up and flip burgers or sit at a booth for a few hours," she said. "I actually had to get some of my close friends, who are not Evergreen residents by the way, come out to manage the event."

"It makes me question if the community even wants these events anymore."

Hayhurst evergreenstreetThe community of Evergreen, located in southwest Calgary, borders the community of Shawnessy to the east and Bridelweood to the south. The Evergreen Community Association hopes to get more residents out into the streets participating in their community.

Photo by: Matthew Hayhurst
According to her, the community's events like the annual resource fair and barbecue, are usually well attended; often seeing 1,000 people show up throughout the day. Despite this, she said, volunteers are still nowhere to be found.

"I don't understand why people don't want to help out their community," said Houghton-Grabill. "It's rewarding to see the community grow. It's not like it's a huge time commitment either. We're asking for half a day's worth of time on a weekend."

A resistance towards getting involved

Leslie Evans, executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities, said that people often get scared by the term "volunteering."

"When people get asked to volunteer, they fear that it will be a long-time commitment that they can't get out of," Evans said. "But in all reality, most community associations would be happy with just a few hours of a person's time volunteering at an event, or taking charge of a small club or gathering."

Houghton-Grabill also drew attention to the community association's dwindling numbers.

BUILDING BETTER COMMUNITIES

A recent 2011 online survey conducted by the Federation of Calgary Communities (FCC) surveyed 1,712 Calgarians about their attitudes and feelings towards their neighbourhoods.

The survey found that 66.8 per cent of respondents said they often help out in their community by volunteering and 33.2 per cent said they do not.

In the same study, 44.7 per cent of people said they regularly attend community functions and events, 39.7 per cent said they only sometimes attend and 15.6 per cent said they never attend.

Leslie Evans of the FCC says that healthy communities have involved community members and active, sustained memberships.

"When people are involved in their communities, it shows that they are proud of their communities," Evans said. "Healthy communities are engaged at the neighbour level. If people take pride in their community, they often become more involved."

Evans says the community association's role is to help neighbours meet their needs. Strong communities get people to "own what they need and help facilitate the voices of others."

"I don't think any community should concern themselves too much with asking people to come to the monthly board meetings," she said. "People like to get their information in many different ways, so meeting those needs is important."

Strong Community Associations:

  • Have multiple ways for people to get their information (Facebook, Twitter, website, newsletter, etc.)
  • Host events to bring together the community and build neighbourly bonds
  • Provide the community with ways to give feedback to the board of directors (for example, a feedback form on the community association website)
  • Work with other associations such as resident's associations to help people understand how they can get involved
  • Hold periodical workshops focusing on things that the community is interested in
  • Help people understand that volunteering doesn't have to be a long-term commitment
  • Provide the community with a voice: the fewer community association members, the weaker the voice

Tips provided by Leslie Evans, executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities.

"There's really only four or five of us who regularly attend the monthly board meetings," she said. "That's not nearly enough to sustain a community of over 18,000 people."

The southwest community of Evergreen is very diverse, according to Houghton-Grabill. According to data from the 2009 City of Calgary census, Evergreen has an immigrant population of 2,940. With a large diversity in terms of language and ethnicity, the community has become a "diverse cultural melting pot with different needs," she said.

Because community membership was so low last year, the community association got rid of the $20 annual membership fee, hoping to gather more supporters.

Though dropping the membership fee did attract 50 new members at the community's annual resource fair, Houghton-Grabill says that she now has to rely on donations from the community to host annual events.

Evans said it's important for a community association to understand the needs of their community, and vice-versa.

"Every community is different," she said. "The needs of a community begin at the neighbour level. A community with strong neighbour interactions are the ones that have a stronger sense of community, and see residents get involved."

Evans believes that it is unrealistic to ask everyone to join his or her community association. She thinks getting involved doesn't mean one should have to sit on the board of directors.

"What's more important than having people attend a meeting they don't want to attend is making sure that the community is happy," Evans said. "If nobody shows up to the [annual general meeting] then it's likely because people aren't concerned that there are any issues immediately affecting them.

"A lot of communities are like this. People typically show up when there is a pressing issue at hand. But joining a community association is a way of stepping up and saying, 'I care about the community I live in, and I want my community's voice to be heard.'"

Suffering an identity crisis

Despite this, members of the Evergreen Community Association are concerned that there is little interaction with the community.

"It seems that we have the community association, and then we have the community," said Evergreen board member Nicholas Mangozho. "There doesn't seem to be an in-between. There is almost no interaction between the two."

Mangozho said the last annual general meeting had to be cancelled because nobody from the community showed up.

Nikhil Sonpal, the Evergreen Community Association president, said the biggest issue is that Evergreen is suffering from what he calls an "identity crisis."

"Evergreen is still growing," he said. "We're in our teen years. We're undergoing some turmoil and we're trying to figure out who we are."

Nikhil SonpalEvergreen Community Association president Nikhil Sonpal believes Evergreen is experiencing an identity crisis. He says the community association is ready to address the issue, and would like to see Evergreen become a more involved community.

Photo by: Matthew Hayhurst
Sonpal said part of the problem is that most people in the community don't even know the community association exists.

"We have the community of Evergreen and the community of Shawnee-Evergreen. Both are separate entities. We're not related to each other," he said.

"Then we have the Evergreen Estates. Half of them belong to us, and half of them belong to Shawnee-Evergreen. Those folks pay an annual membership to the Evergreen Residents Association, which is not a community association, but people seem to be mistaking it for one. They might think they are members of the community association when they really aren't."

Sonpal explained that the Evergreen Residents Association is run by the community developer, Genstar. Residents pay a fee to the developer to maintain the parks, pathways, signage and landscaping that the City of Calgary will not maintain.

"It's confusing for sure, but we're working on implementing a marketing campaign within the next month to help residents understand who we are, why we exist and how they can help," Sonpal said.

Sending a clear message

The Evergreen Community Association is working closely with the offices of Ald. Dianne Colley-Urquhart and MLA Dave Rodney to determine how to help residents better understand the role of their community association.

"We're looking forward to our adult years," Sonpal said. "We have an exciting future ahead of us, and the community is continuing to grow. It's just a matter of helping people understand how they can help it grow."

Sonpal said the association was recently given a plot of land by the city to build an official community centre.

"We're excited about the potential to build a community centre," he said. "But what we really need is for people to tell us what they want to see in their community."

The annual general meeting for the Evergreen Community Association will be held Nov. 9 at the Our Lady of Peace middle school in Midnapore. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

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