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What I learned as a community association president

Last month was my last month as the President of the Braeside Community Association. I had an amazing team to pass the baton to and it was time for new energy in the organization and also for some rest in my own life. 

Any community leader will tell you that community association work is like nothing else. It is the most intimate level of geographical organization- there is nothing more personal and emotional than the neighbourhoods we live in. At the same time, there is nothing quite as draining as bylaws and board meetings. Calgary’s unique CA model means many volunteers, like the ones in Braeside, are tasked with managing aging buildings and infrastructure like rinks and playgrounds. And in the true nature of Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit, there is lots of room for associations to grow and develop in a way that works for their community. 

I can’t think of another role (aside from motherhood!) that has challenged and taught me like my involvement in the BCA. 

Here is what I’ve learned:

Local leadership is quiet and often unrecognized, but it changes everything: Our community association is small with a very modest communications game and limited resources. It often felt like my role was just to keep the ship from going under, let alone steering it. We hosted simple, accessible events and our outreach was as grassroots as it gets: knocking on doors, talking to neighbours at the playground, stopping in to chat with local business owners. It often seemed frustratingly small. When I decided to step down from my role this year, I received messages from people that blew me away. The impact our team had on people’s lives was a consistent, reassuring presence in our neighbourhood during a very complicated time. Those conversations we had gave an opportunity for connection that our community desperately needed. 

Calgary’s Community Association model needs to change: I hope many of you have read Annalise Klingbeil and David Barrett’s recent CBC article about the burden of building management on CAs (if you haven’t go read it now!). I don’t think I could say it much better, but I can confirm the hardest times for our team, when tears were shed and volunteers left, was from the exhaustion of trying to execute an impossible job none of us signed up for. I now know more about wainscoting and hose attachments than I ever wanted to. Volunteers who sign up to make their community better shouldn’t be left holding the bag for planning decisions that were often made decades ago when the community was very different. 

There are many ways to be a community leader: Community Associations are great, but they’re not for everyone. And they certainly have limitations. During my last 4 years with the BCA I met the most incredible people in our neighbourhood who always showed compassion, creativity, and acceptance. Like Paul, whose over-the-top Halloween decorations are top of mind for every kid in Braeside for the entire month of October. Or Jake, who wanted to dedicate a park bench to his departed friend and worked with us to manage a labyrinth of government bureaucracy to get a beautiful new bench built that makes me smile every time I walk by it. Making the world a better place often starts on your own street. 

Thank you Braeside, it’s been an honour!

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