Simple Connections. Complicated Changes.
By Karen Secord
“Connection (is) the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement,…”
~ Brene Brown
There is no worse place to be than being unknown in a room of people who are familiar with each other. I know well, that nauseous new-person-in-class breathless fear.
My heart would race.
My head would pound.
Every single time I was the new kid. Five high schools.
Dozens of classes.
Hundreds of unfamiliar faces.
I didn’t realize at the time but the lessons I learned as a shy, stringy-haired, too-big and awkward teen would hold fast into adulthood.
Humans may need time alone but we don’t thrive in complete isolation. We need to see ourselves reflected in others from time to time; desired, cared for, heard. We want to contribute to something, to someone, somehow. And we need others to value the person that we are or at least care enough to mentor us, help us to round off our rough edges in the creation of a unique gem.
At the Parkdale Food Centre we have seen the immense joy realized as individuals who never thought they could work again, weave their special talents and interesting personalities into employment. We’ve shared opportunities for Neighbours to thrive through connections with others, skills development, laughter and sharing. It is slow and it’s certainly not perfect, but we have been witness to so many successes.
As we connect Neighbours with programming more and more our goal is to ensure not only that the programming is informed by their needs but, ideally, that they are the leaders of the programs. Of course, as some programs become Neighbour-led a tension can form around the role that others play. Roles such as “shopping” with Neighbours may not be as prevalent, as Neighbours choose to select their own groceries and “check-out” themselves. Offering employment in the kitchen may affect the number of volunteer supports we require, just as offering Thirteen ASE alumni paid leadership internships has also shifted volunteer engagement.
The Parkdale Food Centre’s journey of transformational change, away from an undignified food banking system to a place of community connection and onwards to social justice action, education and entrepreneurship has been full of growth and learning. We haven’t always seen the path forward clearly but, perhaps, that has been because the road has been both rocky and winding. It isn’t easy to convince others that change is necessary, let alone show them that it is possible.
Make no mistake, what we have built at Parkdale Food Centre we have done together – staff, Neighbours, donors and volunteers. While Covid-19 may have thrown us off track, disconnected us, forced us to lose sight of the goals we had set, it has not defeated us.
Earlier this week, as I watched my colleagues and Neighbours repaint the Community Fridge and Pantry shed after it was defiled by fire and hate speech, it reminded me how much can be accomplished together, with kindness, understanding and connection. It looks different than it did before, but the change is inviting.
If you want to talk about change, volunteering, programming, or you just want to have lunch, please join me on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 12-2pm. I’m looking forward to meeting you.
Love, Karen Secord