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White Rock forum focuses on community connections

Participants of a forum on how to improve community connections got creative with their suggestions during the June 20 event at White Rock library.
Jenny Leese (left) and Jennifer Beavington chat after participating in a 'community conversation' at the White Rock Library Monday.

Volunteer, invite neighbours over for a barbecue and don't wait for someone to ask for help before offering it.

Suggestions for how to enhance connectivity in White Rock peppered a board in the city's library Monday, as residents, business representatives and others interested in the concept stepped up to answer the question: What's one thing you can personally do to make your community better?

The commitments, scribbled on white Post-it notes, were collected during a community consultation event held to discuss how to enhance neighbourhood ties in the city.

It was the fourth of six such 'conversations' taking place through June 28 – others have already been held in Maple Ridge, Richmond and North Vancouver – in response to the Vancouver Foundation's Vital Signs report. Released last October, the report found that a strong sense of belonging and trust between neighbours helps to create stronger, healthier communities.

The results were a surprise, said Lidia Kemeny, the foundation's director of partnerships and public engagement. Kemeny said having a sense of belonging mattered more to most respondents than having a nice house and lots of money, when they answered questions on quality of life.

"What seemed to matter the most… was how much you felt you belonged in your community," Kemeny said.

The finding led report authors to want to know more about what belonging meant to people, and so began the community conversations.

Kemeny agreed that a sense of belonging can be a tough thing to measure.

"It's less tangible, but you can sure feel it when you've got it," she said.

"I think people are longing to find that place of connectivity, because it feels like for so long, it's been missing."

Monday's event included round-table discussions that culminated with group presentations on connectivity. One group sang its findings, holding hands as they chimed out The More We Get Together. Another group turned theirs into a cheer that linked one word to every letter of 'Peninsula' – parks, entertainment, neighbours, inclusion, novelty, sustainable, unity, livable and ambiance. Another touched on the need to dispel "the myths of White Rock" that have people believing it is a community of fit people who live in nice houses and have 2.5 children; and, one spoke to how White Rock is much like a family – it does well at some things, but isn't always the best at communicating.

Kemeny estimated about 50 people participated in Monday's conversation – nearly double the 30 that were expected.

For Jennifer Beavington, it was a chance to learn a little more about "the lay of the land."

New to White Rock, she said, "it's been interesting for me to figure out where I belong."

Beavington described the conversation as "a good way for discovery."

Jenny Leese said she had stopped by the library to read the newspaper when she happened upon the consultation and decided to participate.

Also new to White Rock, Leese has noticed  a lack of cultural events, such as symphony performances. There is also duplication of services, she said.

Kemeny told participants the conversation was "a valuable beginning" to community change.

Results from each site will be compiled into a report for the area's city council. The Vancouver Foundation will use the results to guide its work moving forward.

Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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