Mapping a new path to inclusion and belonging

Sharing a laugh: Nicole (second from left) with her partner Damon, her Aunt Linda (centre) and her mom Sue (right).

On the evening of April 2, at the Church of Nazarene in Victoria, the rhythm of 30 djembe drums spilled into the streets. There was cake and popcorn and hand drawn maps of Victoria neighbourhoods taped across the church walls. The room was filled with people passionate about where they live and about sharing the gifts and opportunities for inclusion in their community.

The Victoria Community Celebration and Mapping event was hosted by a committee made up of members from the CLBC South Island Community Council, Family Support Institute and University of Victoria Community Mapping Collaboratory. The goal was to build new connections between families, self advocates and community groups who have shared interests in accessibility and inclusion, like the Greater Victoria Library, BC Transit and the Intercultural Association.

Mapping opportunities for connection

Nicole Baker, co-chair of the South Island Community Council and program manager at Lifetime Networks Victoria, believes in the value of bringing families and self advocates together for reasons outside of disability related services. “We all get stuck on how services for people could be better,” says Nicole, “Coming together like this, to share resources and ideas, broadens horizons and connects people outside of paid services.”

Discussing community gifts at the Victoria Community Celebration and Mapping event.

Nicole sits on the CLBC Community Council as a family representative. Her Aunt Linda, 59, recently moved from Kamloops into a home share in the Cowichan Valley. Nicole describes Linda’s life in Kamloops as a good life, but not a full life. She says, “Linda didn’t go far from home.  She lived her whole life with her parents and wasn’t a big part of community life.”  Nicole talks about using community mapping as planning tool to first learn about who Linda is and what she might like to try. “Linda’s world is opening up. By connecting her to community we’re learning things we didn’t know about Linda, like she loves shopping, bus rides, yoga and Johnny Cash!”

Nicole, the South Island Community Council, and CLBC council members all over the province are engaging with their communities in new ways by learning to host and facilitate local community mapping workshops. Over the last two years, this collective effort has formed the BC Community Asset Mapping Network whose vision is: Welcoming, kind and inclusive communities where all people know how and where to connect in their community.

New places and faces

A community mapping workshop typically runs for two hours and is a fun and interactive process that uncovers and maps the ‘assets’ – places and spaces that people feel included and welcome in their community.  This could include interest groups, clubs, classes, recreation drop-ins or simply a coffee shop that goes the extra mile to create a welcoming and accessible atmosphere. Participants share stories about what makes these places so important, and then physically locate them on a large community map that by the end of the session is covered in pins or sticky notes for others to see. People are guided and encouraged to share their own gifts, talents and interests to facilitate new connections with others in the room. At the end of the workshop people leave with new places to discover, activities to try out, and maybe even with a new friend.

Network members are beginning to partner with community leaders outside the disability sector to co-facilitate workshops in neighbourhood hubs such as public libraries.  Together they are learning how to build connections and harness community gifts as a way reduce loneliness and isolation not just for people with diverse abilities, but for all people. The community places and resources identified in these mapping sessions will soon be accessible via an online platform called My Community BC, a resource developed in partnership with the Family Support Institute being launched this summer.

Nicole is excited that the Victoria Community Celebration and Mapping event has already made a difference in people’s lives. Those who attended made new relationships, and have begun to explore inclusive opportunities in their community they weren’t aware of, like the Greater Victoria Public Library Chess Club and the Centre of the Universe Observatory.

As humans we all have connections to the places we call community, our neighbourhood, our home. The more places we belong, the more people there are in our life, the more opportunity there is for contribution and valued social roles. As Nicole says, “inclusion and belonging is never about services. People actually want services to do what community could be doing.”

Dancing to the beat of your own drum: Attendees take part in a drum Circle at the Victoria Community Celebration and Mapping event.

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