What About the Other Calgaries?

Posted by on Apr 6, 2012 in Blog, News

Many of us use labels to help us simplify a complex world. Handy though they are they too blind us to richer and subtler understandings of Alberta and her people.

I found this out when I was in Calgary this past Friday (March 30th) talking about my dream of the Next Alberta.

“Petroleum wealth” is one label we hang on Calgary. It’s a city that, because of petroleum, conjures images of wealth. The petro-wealth imagery misses though some of Calgary’s other faces; it neglects much of what contemporary Calgary is about.

In the shadows of Calgary’s petroleum towers stand landmarks such as the Old Y building on 12th Avenue SW. The Old Y Centre (http://www.oldycentre.com/index.php?id=11)  is home to a wide range of agencies that “work together, support and reflect the evolving cultural fabric of Calgary.”

Senate nominee candidates who say they want to defend Alberta’s interests should be committed to standing up for the people who benefit from the hard work done by the community organizations I was introduced to on my tour of the Old Y Centre.

Take the Arusha Centre and its Calgary Dollars initiative (http://www.calgarydollars.ca/about.html). Mike Unrau explained that people who participate in the program buy and sell a portion of goods and services in this complementary currency. Since these dollars may only be exchanged in Calgary it’s a program that promotes local businesses and builds community.

Mike’s thoughts got me thinking about whether the federal government could support the program. Could Ottawa develop a pilot program where a portion of a select federal service could be paid for in Calgary dollars?

Sonia Edworthy, the Old Y Centre’s property manager, introduced me to an obviously brilliant program supported until recently by the federal government (Service Canada). “Building Futures,” run by Aspen Family (www.aspenfamily.org), reached out to Calgary’s youth. Many of the 30 young adults per month who participated in the program were homeless citizens. Building Futures offered these 18 to 24 year olds the life skills needed for them to make better choices; it gave them the skills they needed to find affordable housing, look after themselves, and look for work.

My notes about talking to Sonia are filled with words like hope, skills, belonging, community, careers, empowering. At graduation these young citizens had the confidence and the skills needed to stand up in front of their audience and talk about what their lives had been like before they came to the Old Y Centre and what they hoped to do in the future. Their stories brimmed with optimism.

Service Canada recently cancelled the program. Aspen Family is now looking for corporate sponsors to help these disadvantaged citizens live good lives. If you know of any corporations that might be interested please tell them to contact Aspen Family. They were doing such good work.

These sorts of program cuts exemplify what is so terribly wrong in Ottawa. By attacking poverty, by offering basic life skills, programs like “Building Futures” make our cities better places for everyone to live in. They deserve strong federal support, not the axe.

If you agree then help send me to Ottawa to speak out on behalf of the interests, beliefs, and citizens that make the Old Y Centre a fundamentally important part of Calgary’s diversity.