Buoyed by the success of its initial grass-roots initiatives, the St. Stephen Dialogue Committee is gearing up to roll out its social cohesion strategy on all fronts. To support the group’s growth, the Committee members are looking for 15 new volunteers. Perhaps you’d like to join them?
Being present everywhere! That’s the strategy of the St. Stephen Dialogue Committee, which aims to get local residents active and engaged in promoting social cohesion at all levels. Today, the Committee announced plans to boost its volunteer team: “Since the Dialogue Committee was created last fall, our number of volunteers has doubled from 12 to 24! But today, we still need 15 more!” explain Don and Karen Olmstead, Dialogue leaders for St. Stephen.
The cause is a worthy one: the Dialogue Committee has a number of major projects in the works so St. Stephen residents will be heard and valued and feel at home. Don and Karen add: “The very concept of social cohesion is still quite abstract for many people. So we decided to define it via an array of grass-roots initiatives aimed at keeping people informed while asking them to reflect on the things that divide us and finding solutions aimed at rallying people around a wide range of issues, including immigration, the LGBTQ+ community, First Nations, rich and poor, young and old, francophones and anglophones, etc.”
Parades, discussions and data
Since things really got rolling this past spring, the two-person team of Don and Karen haven’t missed a single gathering, party or event! Parades, discussions, surveys… the Committee members certainly have no shortage of ideas!
And it all seems to be working: at the St. Stephen Kiwanis Trade Show on May 3-4, approximately 200 people visited the space set aside for the Dialogue Committee. “It’s quite simple: we engaged in non-stop discussions with the public!” notes Don. For this first major initiative, the Committee members put up a map on which attendees could indicate where they lived. This naturally led to more in-depth discussions, during which the Committee members informed visitors about Dialogue NB’s mission, in addition to collecting some interesting data about what, in their opinion, divides and unites local residents.
Changing people’s perspectives
To mark Canada Day (July 1), the Committee pulled out all the stops by encouraging St. Stephen residents to take part in a highly colourful parade, with a loud-and-clear message emblazoned on the lead vehicle: “We all belong/Nous faisons tous partie”. In addition to rekindling feelings of belonging (which tend to taper off among the younger generation), the Committee was seeking to change people’s perspective on newcomers to the area: “We’re all immigrants, except for the First Nations. So we invited everyone who was willing to do so to carry a sign indicating the year in which their family or ancestors arrived in Canada, as well as their city of origin! The idea proved wildly popular: all in all, we had nearly 50 participants, including 11 Syrians, representing 15 countries, who paraded before a crowd of nearly 5,000 people. In terms of visibility, we couldn’t have asked for more in our wildest dreams! Some participants even wore traditional attire. It was magnificent! The traditional Thai dresses, in particular, lit up the entire float! We’re all set to relive the experience on August 10 at the International Homecoming Festival!”
Getting everyone involved
Although it’s still a little early to be talking about building on past achievements, the Committee plans to get local residents truly committed to the idea of making St. Stephen a more inclusive place. In light of the success of the first few initiatives, the team intends to get together with local residents at least once a month. “On September 14-15, we’ll be attending the Charlotte County Fall Fair at Ganong Nature Park to discuss social cohesion. We’ll also be organizing a Public Dialogue some time before December,” explains Don with enthusiasm, noting that these public initiatives are only the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes, the Committee has been holding a series of internal meetings where members come up with new ideas aimed at promoting day-to-day social cohesion: “In the coming months, we’ll be focusing more on issues having to do with the LGBTQ+ communities, with building closer community ties between francophones and anglophones and with welcoming newcomers.” Among the various projects in the works, the Committee hopes to make some videos and to organize events at which individuals will be encouraged to tell their own personal stories. Don offers these concluding remarks: “We plan to be more present on social media so we can expand the range of our initiatives and get our message out there, particularly among young people. To reach our goals, the assistance of 15 volunteers would really come in handy!”
To contact the St. Stephen Dialogue Committee, please call Don and Karen Olmstead at (506) 466-2893.