What’s taking root on the edge of Calgary?

A year into its life, the Genesis Centre of Community Wellness still gleams like new.

The sprawling community centre — which includes a library, a YMCA and a human services area called 1,000 Voices — opened on the city’s northern edge last year to serve communities north of McKnight Boulevard and east of Deerfoot Trail. The area is rich in cultural diversity: four of every 10 people were born outside Canada. But as new residents flocked to the quickly-growing area in recent decades, they foresaw challenges. Unlike established communities closer to the city’s core, these communities had a dearth of services.

Martindale, Saddle Ridge, Taradale, Castleridge, Falconridge, Sky View Ranch and Coral Springs all lacked a major recreational facility, for example. Residents tackled that problem by envisioning a new gathering place, a community, cultural and recreational hub that would bring people together. The result was the Genesis Centre.

Here are four things the Genesis Centre and 1,000 Voices have brought to the community.

1. A destination for youth
“It gives youth a place to go to in this area, because this is the edge of town,” says Vincent Joachim, a community arts facilitator with Antyx, an agency that uses the arts to engage youth with their communities. “The facilities here are awesome. Youth can come here and play soccer, swim, play basketball.” They also get engaged at 1,000 Voices — a United Way-funded place for community members to access services  important to them. Joachim recently helped local youth create a mural at 1,000 Voices about how they see themselves, exploring stereotypes they encounter. “What excites me the most is the potential for youth to come together and have a voice,” says Joachim. “This place gives that space.”

2. A haven for seniors
“I think this is a hidden gem, and the true pride of the north-northeast,” says community resident Rossbina Nathoo. She runs a volunteer-driven non-profit organization called F.O.C.U.S. on Seniors, which operates out of 1,000 Voices. “For our seniors, this is heavensent,” says Nathoo. “It’s a beautiful, safe haven that has been accessible to most of the active older adults.” Before 1,000 Voices existed, she struggled to find space, money and support for her work. No longer. “This place has offered us everything,” she says. “So we have been able to stabilize ourselves and experience growth.” Instead of worrying about space, her group can focus on offering services such as computer training, ESL classes and fitness classes.

3. A place to connect with neighbours
The area’s cultural diversity is one of its greatest strenghts, but it also presents challenges. “It’s a very young community, and it doesn’t have a lot of history that binds people together,” says Jason Klinck, a Neighbourhood Resource Associate with United Way. “So how do you create that in a place that has a lot of diversity and not a lot of common places?” Space can make all the difference. He recalls a round dance at the Genesis Centre in December. “You could hear the drums from across the parking lot,” says Klinck. Passersby coming from the library and YMCA stopped to listen, and even started to dance. “It was an incredible moment.”

4. A feeling of home
“I think there’s something special about having a space where you can come and you don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to have a membership,” says Klinck. “It’s friendly and you can just sit and chat with people.” At 1,000 Voices, residents are encouraged to engage, whether they want to improve their community or tackle a challenge in their personal lives. “Through understanding yourself better and what you can contribute to make the community you’re living in a better place, you also get to know people and understand where it is you live,” says Klinck. “Over time, you start to develop a connection to it — a feeling of home.”

Learn more about what’s happening in Calgary’s north-northeast! Visit the websites of 1,000 Voices and the Genesis Centre, and check out United Way’s 1,000 Voices report (PDF), which is the result of conversations with over 1,000 people who live in Calgary’s North of McKnight neighbourhoods.

Photo courtesty of City of Calgary.