By Theresa Wells
As we begin 2015 we look towards a year that is certain to be both exciting and challenging in the region we call home. The price of oil and a variety of coming events and new opportunities combine to create an atmosphere of both anticipation and trepidation in our community, and will undoubtedly provide plenty of fodder for columnists like myself. For me, though, the key in the sentences above is the phrase “the region we call home”, because over the weekend I found myself involved in an intriguing conversation about exactly that, and those who do not call this place home.
The question a friend asked on his Facebook page was how we make people see this as their home, with the expectation that if they did so they would become more involved, perhaps driving up our voting turnout and leading to an improved community overall. The answers came fast and furious, from explanations as to why some do not consider this their home (longing for other places where their family and friends reside, a plan of temporary residence preventing the formation of long-term attachments, and more) to suggestions of ways to increase that feeling of home for those who do not see it that way. The answers and responses were as individual and unique as each person’s experience here, and for me I kept reflecting on my own experience in this community and how I began to view it as home.
For me it came from being involved in something I was passionate about – my child’s educational experience. When my daughter began school here I joined parent council in order to have a more hands-on understanding of her education, and it was truly my entry into starting to see this community as home.
This falls into place with a conversation my daughter had with Justin Trudeau last year. As a youth passionate about politics, she asked him how she could engage other youth in politics as she found their indifference and apathy troubling. He advised learning what they were passionate about – what issue was close to their heart – and find a way to show them how politics affected that issue and how it the two were linked. So too it is with helping residents consider a place home instead of a “place where they happen to be”. It is both as simple and as difficult as discovering what they care about and linking that to their community, hopefully showing them they can have a direct impact on it, whatever it may be from sports to politics.
There is a challenge in this, however. This cannot be accomplished through a government program or initiative. I was approached once by a government entity wishing to start a “grassroots” citizenry movement and although I was reluctant to do so I think I threw some cold water on their fire when I suggested that something could not be both grassroots and government, both “of the people and for the people” and led by those in power. No matter the level of sincerity and no matter the degree of authenticity of their desire any such faux grassroots movement is destined to be a less than stellar success, because it will always be seen as driven by external forces. So, the question becomes: if it cannot be a government initiative, driven by business or industry or led by our elected leaders then how do we accomplish this goal of helping people consider the place to be their home?
I think the answer lies with each and every person who does consider this home. It may seem a daunting task and responsibility, but perhaps it is up to each of us to see if we can find ways to help others who may be struggling to consider this to be their home. Maybe it is up to each of us as individuals to try to connect the dots for others and assist them in developing that connection that leads to them calling this place home.
And so today I issue you a challenge. If you consider this place your home then the next time you meet someone who does not put aside the defensive reaction and instead begin to explore this with them. Find out their passions, the things they care about and what makes them tick and then see if you can help them see a link between that and this place. Yes, it may seem time consuming and it may even be futile, but if you manage to help just one person call this place home then you have accomplished something remarkable. I think we are up to the task, Fort McMurray – and the future of our community – our home – may well be riding on it.
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