Today, unlike last Saturday, it was a beautiful sunny spring day when I made my way out to Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park (KGO), the East Scarborough community in which I work. I came out to meet an inspiring group of budding entrepreneurs and share with them the story of the East Scarborough Storefront.
When I got home, my partner asked me what I had hoped to get out of the day. I paused and reflected that in going to work today, I honestly, didn’t have any particular goals. I came out to talk about the Storefront because Zahra Ebrahim (archiTEXT) had asked me to.
But I came away with so much.
As I greeted residents who were at the Storefront on this sunny Saturday to either provide or receive income tax help, join with other residents in an MS support group, dig out the dormant garden, lead or participate in an art class, or to cook up a storm in the Eco-Food Hub kitchen, I was struck by the thought that this is what true community space looks like. Residents were in the forefront, leading, participating and working together!
I walked through the Storefront and I could feel the enthusiasm and the sense of community. And then, with two young residents, Khushbu and Ajeev, our architect Paul Dowsett (sustainable.TO), and Zahra, we talked about it. We had sort of sketched a rough outline of who would talk when (and we didn’t even stick to that), we actually launched into the presentation with hardly any prior planning…and magic happened.
We all, independently of each other, spoke about the work that we do together in the context to collaboration, trust, process and grounding in community leadership. We spoke about what it means when youth connect and engage to create something beautiful, in this case the design of a building (the Storefront’s building). We talked about trusting their vision, their ability to use new tools and ideas to make sound decisions. We spoke about what being a “co-lead” on a project means…when there are so many leaders. We talked about the connections we all find in our philosophies and values and about our shared commitment to going on this journey together. We talked for a long time; we talked with passion; and we meant every word.
At the end of the presentation one of the very engaged and motivated students from the School of Social Entrepreneurship asked how we can collaborate with so many people…how do we make it work…?
And that’s when I was able to bring theory to life. In the literature on Social Impact coming out of the Stanford Centre for Social Innovation, a new term has been coined that describes the role of the organization that connects people to one another, shares information and finds and builds on opportunities: it’s called a “backbone” organization.
The Storefront is a neighbourhood “backbone” organization. As such, the Storefront is able to play the connector, convenor, facilitator and supporter roles that are often invisible, but allow the vibrancy of days like today to happen.
The tax clinic happened because of motivated volunteers: recruited by one Storefront staff, supported by another and trained through a third. The intentional and proactive connection of residents to resources meant that the residents who volunteered and those who needed income tax help were connected to each other.
The art class was possible because of the passion, skill and dreams of a resident leader: supported by a Storefront platform that helps to nurture all aspects of resident organizing.
The partnership with the MS society was nurtured as Storefront nurtures all partnerships: by supporting the work that they want to do. The gardeners were drawn together and their productive clean up day pulled together by the invisible threads of the Storefront staff. And cooking in a beautiful commercial grade kitchen, is only possible because of the connecting and convening of youth, mentors, funders, artists, architects and so many more in a complex web of innovation.
I am so excited to be a part of the neighbourhood “backbone” organization that, on this sunny day in April had the community’s space, the East Scarborough Storefront buzzing with activity and vibrancy. It’s something that can’t be read about in the literature…it has to be lived. I was so glad to be able to share it today with the students from the School of Social Entrepreneurship. And, I’m glad that I get to live it, not only today, but every day.