The social network: How Bowness stayed strong after the flood

A sign in the community of Bowness: We lost some stuff. We gained a community. Thank you!

The Calgary neighbourhood of Bowness was devastated by recent flooding. Rather than let their spirit be washed away, Bownesians showed why they feel such a strong connection to their community.

The response started when the Bow River began to overflow. As news of the evacuation came, the Bowness Community Association called an emergency meeting. Instead of waiting for instructions from The City, they invited everyone they felt should be involved and together came up with a plan.

It was decided the Bowness Community Centre would be the central location of their flood response. Soon after, people ages five through 85 showed up to help.

All the necessary organizations set up shop at the Centre, including police, the Canadian Red Cross, United Way and other social agencies. Other community groups and agencies like the Bowwest Community Resource Centre, Bowness Boys and Girls Club and RockPointe Church were in close contact with organizers at the Centre to offer their resources as well.

It’s no accident these groups came together so quickly. People at these organizations knew each other and worked together before the flood. They connected at annual community events and came together to support local initiatives and families.

For seven years United Way has worked in Bowness to help bring residents, social agencies, businesses and government together. This is part of United Way’s Neighbourhood Strategy, and the flood showed why this work is so valuable. When disaster struck, the community did what came naturally – people checked on each other and made a plan.

“Social cohesion and people knowing each other is what the Neighbourhood Strategy is all about,” says Susan Ramsundarsingh, a Neighbourhood Coordinator with United Way. “That’s what we’ve seen making a difference here.”

The network continued to mobilize. Volunteers were organized and deployed to homes. They were intentional about finding out who in the community was most in need of help. Those that were isolated were brought in to the network, connected with organizers at the Centre and immediately supported.

This social network was critical to successful flood response. At last count, the social network in Bowness was over 3,800 people strong.

As the relief efforts continue, the social network will only continue to grow and strengthen the community for years to come.

—Kristen Strain is a communications advisor at United Way of Calgary and Area. Photo from Twitter, by @ballen29.

To support relief efforts in Bowness, We Heart Bowness tiles (above) are available for purchase at the Bowness Community Centre (7904 – 43th Avenue NW). Tiles are $10 with funds going to flood relief in Bowness. You can also get involved by connecting with 211 to see where you can volunteer, or donate to United Way’s Emergency Community Support Fund.