“Very quickly however, the community league’s focus advanced beyond its district infrastructure to include social and recreational needs. The league organized social functions and conducted sports events that brought residents closer and fostered their sense of being part of a community” – Ron Kuban (Edmonton’s Urban Villages – The Community League Movement)
Car shows, corn roasts, BBQ’s and more, over 90 communities held events across Edmonton for today’s iteration of the now annual Community League Day. This on top of events such as Glenwood’s Party in the Park which have already or will take place as summer comes to a close.
The Community League movement got its formal start with the creation of the Crestwood Community League in 1917. Community and resident groups are a staple of community life in cities and municipalities across North America, however few can claim the uniqueness and the role in the creation of a city, the way Edmonton’s Community League system, and the thousands of volunteers over the past century can.
Events like those today, help foster community. They’ve always done so, however when the demands on our time are greater than ever, when volunteer ranks and connectivity between neighbours in a community easily can and do become strained and detached, their importance can only increase. In the early days of our city, these events helped to build neighbourhoods. Now they serve to reconnect and even revitalize the same.
So as Edmonton’s population inches ever closer to the million mark, as new neighbourhoods develop, as older ones find themselves in need of care, revitalization, and reinvestment, and as the City of Edmonton finds itself having to adapt and provide a greater number of programs, projects, and services; How does a community league system with a century of experience mold itself to these changes and a new generation of Edmontonians?
The value of community leagues in advocacy and reaching into politics from the grassroots level is unchanged, and perhaps carries even greater importance with current public policy being pulled upon in multiple directions by more entities than ever before. The role, the duty of civic government, for both elected representatives and public servants is that of openness and transparency. If volunteers hit a wall, if public consultation is neither accessible, proactive and rewarding, volunteers will burn out and fade away. The same is true if that grassroots voice finds itself unheard, rather than represented in civic governance and direction.
For league’s themselves, the cost of building and maintaining amenities, and providing services to a community cannot be done without municipal support. It’s not just capable Community Recreation Coordinators to work with and support volunteer boards, but making resources to repair, revitalize and if necessary help rebuild older halls, or facilities in new communities. As well as to allow the EFCL to explore avenues such as volunteer training, and new methods of connecting with Edmonton’s now 150+ leagues.
Finally is the outreach at the most local of levels. For individual boards, the tools for doing so have never been more plentiful. Digital outlets; a website, Twitter account and Facebook are simple to use, require diligence but minimal time to maintain, and are wide reaching. It’s hard for a community member to become engaged when information is limited, out of date, or just simply unavailable altogether.
And when community residents do make the decision to volunteer, whether it’s for a special event or by making the commitment to join the board or a sub-committee, it’s so important to offer a welcoming environment. I joined the Glenwood Community League as it’s Civics Director with no first-hand experience with the community league system, and with the support and encouragement of my board, within the year I was representing the league at public hearing, maintaining our digital presence and moderating town hall meetings. It’s a privilege to be able to serve one’s community and all voices, ages, and backgrounds should be allowed and warmly welcomed at the table. Differing opinions are a fact of life. They should be respected and lead, not to closed doors, but to healthy debate within a league and/or between the league and civic government.
The community league system is strong, but fragile. Experienced but having to continually adapt itself to the times. Blessed with numerous dedicated and excellent volunteers but always open and need of more. Community league day is a snapshot and a reminder of the value of this movement, lets make sure its future is sustainable, and its value as a service provider, as an advocate, and as a city builder isn’t forgotten or allowed to wither.