How can we win on social issues in Calgary?
To start, we need an understanding of what exactly these problems are, and how they’re changing.
Community planners have this insight. They are in close contact with social service agencies throughout Calgary, and can determine which areas need attention and investment.
We spoke with Kendall Quantz, a community planner with United Way, about the trends she’s seeing in Calgary — and why poverty is no longer a dirty word in our city.
What is a community planner, exactly?
Primarily our role is to work with the community and find out what the major issues are in United Way’s focus areas (youth, poverty and strong communities). Then, we work as a team to come up with strategies to address these issues. My focus areas are poverty and vulnerable youth.
What trends are you seeing in Calgary right now in the area of youth?
We’ve been seeing vulnerable youth not having what we call “natural supports” — in other words, family and close friends that you count as family. People you can turn to, that you can call at 2 a.m. if something’s not going right.
That’s a key aspect of us growing up and developing into adults, and that’s a huge missing piece in young people’s lives in our city. That’s challenging. We don’t want young people to have the impression that the only people that are going to care about them are people who are paid to do so.
So now we’re trying to help professionals work with families, people who are often seen as the problem in young people’s lives. It’s really challenging and very exciting, and we’re learning a ton.
For more on this issue, see this post: “On families and hope.” United Way is currently investing in three projects in this area, partnering with three agencies — the Alex, Boys & Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Big Brothers Big Sisters — to prototype different approaches of developing family supports and mentoring relationships for youth.
What are you seeing in the area of poverty?
Personally, I think we’re seeing positive trends for the first time. That’s exciting. There are still issues, clearly, but there’s a lot of community excitement around things like the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative.
Poverty is no longer a dirty word in our community. We’re allowed to talk about it, and not only that, we are actively talking about it in really different circles. The business community is talking about it. The city is talking about it. The province is talking about it. I cannot believe how far we’ve come in talking about poverty.
That’s not to say people didn’t care before — they absolutely did — but I think it was so big nobody knew what to do with it. It was just that horrible, huge thing underlying everything. It was the one thing we knew we had to address, but nobody had any clue about how to do it. People haven’t magically figured it out, but I think they just recognized — well, let’s start doing, and maybe we’ll find out.
Why do you think that shift has occurred?
I think the experience of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness had a huge impact on that. I think a lot of the apprehension around something like poverty or even homelessness is because a lot of what has to change is systems and policies. If was as easy as changing programs, we would have done that. If it was as easy as we need a new community hub, we do that. But it’s complex.
I think United Way has come a long way. Over the last years we’ve taken some small bets and that’s how you get ready to take the big bets. And our board has been tremendous in challenging us and encouraging us, pushing us to go further.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I go home and I’m happy because I get to interact with the most brilliant, committed, caring individuals and have incredible conversations that really matter. They’re conversations about how do we make this city really great for everyone. Everyone.
People’s commitment and willingness to work together is just absolutely inspiring. And that gives me a lot of hope for myself, my son, everybody.
Do you want Calgary to be great for everyone? Learn more by checking out the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative website!