A Week in the Life of a Natural Neighbourhood Connector
Edmonton has been at the forefront of a movement to stimulate and support the practice of “neighbouring” – of being a caring and connected, active participant in the life of your neighbourhood. You may have heard of the Abundant Communities Initiative, where community connectors find and create opportunities for people to connect and build relationships across the back fence, at the café, or while pushing kids on a swing.
While many people have signed up to become connectors, there are many more who practice the fine art of neighbouring every day, without support or recognition. I’m going to tell you about Shelley, one of the finest neighbours in McCauley.
Shelley Hollingsworth has long, straight, graying hair, a bit of a Maritime accent, and a fondness for rock music t-shirts and plaid flannel overshirts. She loves dogs, kids, Halloween, and helping out around the community. This is a week in her life.
Monday: Up early for a walk through the halls of McCauley Apartments, a four-storey walkup just east of Sacred Heart Church, calling out “good morning, hun” to anyone she sees. If someone has been sick, she’ll knock on their door and check in. In the summer, she will water the garden boxes at the back of the building, or coordinate this task with someone else. At around 10:30, she arrives in front of Sacred Heart Church to help set up the folding tables that will hold all the day-old bread delivered by the Salvation Army truck at 11:00 a.m. She greets all the people gathering to collect a loaf or two, and calms frayed nerves if someone tries to push in front of others. This has evolved into a leadership position, where Shelley and a few other folks from McCauley Apartments coordinate the distribution of bread (that’s you, Barry Daniels!). Later that night, she will make her rounds around the apartment building again.
Tuesday: Early morning patrol, plus disposing of some needles found in the alley. Then, a stop in at the McCauley Apartments e4c office to work on the collective puzzle and ask if anyone needs bread or any other food. If it’s the third week of the month, Shelley calls ahead to all of the people who have ordered a WECAN food basket to remind them of the depot on Thursday.
Wednesday: Shelley pops in at the office to ask if we need a snack for the Wellness Wednesday program later in the day, and if there is anything she needs to prepare for the program, as she regularly leads the scheduled activity. Memorable moments from Shelley’s Wellness Wednesdays are: writing and performing the lyrics to the “McCauley Blues” during Karaoke, decorating the office for every occasion, and bringing her puppy for everyone to enjoy.
Thursday: Every third Thursday, Shelley helps to coordinate the WECAN food depot with long-time volunteer Elizabeth McEwan. She lugs all the supplies and equipment from the McCauley e4c office, and sorts the food delivery into individual baskets with Elizabeth, Daniel, Rocky, and other volunteers. Once that is taken care of, she hurries back to Sacred Heart for the second bread delivery of the week, then back to the WECAN depot to pack up and bring everything back to the office.
Friday: A few large bags of COBS bread are delivered to Shelley’s doorstep. A team of people congregate in the e4c office to separate the bread into individual bags, and then the tables go up in front of Sacred Heart once again.
This is just her regular routine, but there is more. Shelley is the auntie or fairy godmother of dozens of kids and families in the neighbourhood. If they don’t have food or if they need help talking with authorities at school, Shelley is who they call. And, of course, there is her Halloween Party! Now in its 24th year, Shelley and a loose group of friends and volunteers have organized and hosted a Halloween party every year, for anyone who would like to attend. Apart from treats and games, she always has a bin of extra costumes for those kids who arrive without one. This event is now a tradition for the children of those kids who first attended Shelley’s Safe Kids Halloween.
With someone like Shelley, there is always more. She is the fire-keeper at the Family Day event at McCauley Rink, and the traffic boss at the annual McCauley Clean Up. Of course there is more – sharing and neighbouring are Shelley’s particular gifts. Our community is more connected, more interesting, more fun, and more kind because of Shelley.
Kathryn Rambow is the e4c Manager of Community Development.