Newfoundland and Labrador is full of communities. With over 276 registered municipalities and countless other huddles of houses and homes smattered on the sides of highways and down long dirt roads, we’ve managed to create quite a few incredible places in every corner of our great province. From Witless Bay to Red Bay and everywhere in between, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a long-standing tendency to gather together for camaraderie, for effective use of resources, and for pure convenience.
However, community is more than a shared location or set of boundaries. It’s also a shared sense of belief, attitudes, and values that creates fellowship between individuals and groups of people. It’s that feeling of connection and purpose that can manifest between people hundreds of miles apart. Community doesn’t have to be a connection to a specific locale, it can be grow from a place within the heart, mind, and soul. It’s this shared sense of values that has allowed our organization to come into existence, evolve, and become what it is today.
The community that surrounds Choices for Youth is vast. We’ve been creating, growing, and reinforcing our vision of community for close to 30 years now. Our community is made up of individuals, corporate entities, granting agencies, young people, sector professionals, donors, social justice champions, and more. These stakeholders each play a role in helping our organization be the best it can be, continuing to imagine better services and support for young people in need throughout our city, province, and country. There are key functions of a community that help to build intention and purpose around the common values of a community, and together these functions help to create and inform change in a community.
The first key role of a community is listening and learning. This involves searching for information from reputable organizations and publications, analyzing arguments for and against important topics, and including and relying on lived expertise to inform reasoning. By listening and learning we can create a common sense of understanding on the approaches, philosophies, and values that support our community. In our community we are active members of learning groups, national coalitions, and sector-based committees to ensure that we are continually learning from others, and sharing the valuable knowledge and experiences from within CFY.
The second function of a community member is engagement. Engagement could mean asking questions, starting conversations, and reflecting on long-held truths or traditions to determine whether we are living the values of our community. As a social justice organization with a large community, it is our role to be a part of conversations and encourage dialogue to keep our members engaged and up-to-date on important developments and innovations in our sector. We actively seek out opportunities to lend a voice to the issues surrounding youth homelessness, including sitting on public panels, advocating to influence legislation and policy, and participating in conversations and forums led by those with lived experience.
The last key purpose is showing support. This can take many shapes and forms, but can includes getting involved directly through volunteerism, fundraising or donating to an organization or cause, or being a social justice champion in your workplace or location. Support for our community is not a set of one-size-fits-all actions, but whatever form support takes it, it lends strength, resiliency and ambition. At CFY we are constantly impressed with how people and groups show their support; from children who ask for donations to CFY instead of birthday gifts, to workplaces who coordinate their internal team-building activity as a volunteer effort for our organization – with each act of support we are inspired, and it reaffirms our belief that our work is making a difference.
The power of community lies in our collective search for social justice and equality. We are stronger together and can use our voices to amplify important messages, and when we hold each other accountable for our words, actions, methods and approaches. This power multiplies when we listen, when we begin with kindness and compassion, and when we use our own strengths to build each other up. CFY is just one of many organizations doing complex and valuable work in Newfoundland and Labrador, and though we have a strong contingent of staff persons to help carry us forward each day, the reality is that we are not in this alone – and we couldn’t do it alone. We are supported by the work of other agencies, by volunteers, by donors, by granting partners, and ultimately by you – by each person who continues to see the human behind the statistic and the life underneath the struggle. We are proud to be a part of this community. Together we can end youth homelessness.