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Pigs and Chickens

A few days ago, kids with foam crowns and Crown Point buttons sat patiently with their parents through a long workplace safety discussion at Hamilton City Hall. They were waiting for the chance to help their neighbourhood association tell their city councilors about the work the association is doing in their community: a volunteer-run, low-cost soccer league, property elves, street parties, a cargo bike share program, improvements to local trails, speed reductions on side streets….The kids are also part of New Hope Christian Reformed Church in east Hamilton, Ontario.

I nabbed Nelly Sinclair, a member of New Hope CRC and of Crown Point’s communications team, after the meeting to chat about the Crown Point Neighbourhood Association. Nelly’s enthusiasm about the Crown Point community was obvious as she mingled and chatted with her neighbours about the presentation.

1. How long have you been part of the Crown Point Neighbourhood Association?

I joined a little over a year ago. Actually, I joined because the Hamilton Community Leadership Institute was offering $500 to people who took a course at McMaster and were willing to be mentors for students joining neighbourhood associations. Our family needed cash, so I went for it. God works in funny ways.

It took a while to figure out where my gifts and the needs of the association met, so I just attended for a while. But the first task I did for Crown Point was starting a website for the community, and then a Facebook group.

2. I hear that New Hope had a hand in creating the Association. How did that happen?

One of our founding members, Hans Kater, had the vision for it. He was one of the ones who got it started. It had a few rough years when numbers dwindled, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy around it now.

3. What are you most excited about for Crown Point now?

I’m passionate about helping everyone to give out of their abundance, not their deficits, to improve our community. It’s called Asset-Based Community Development. People have looked at our neighbourhood and thought it was the dredges of society, but we believe  that we are all real people and we have great things to give. We don’t have losers in East Hamilton. We have potential, and it’s untapped.

We’re trying to get representation from all kinds of different people on the board now. We're missing something, actually someone, if we don't have people from all levels of society. So I’m working on a community newspaper so that everyone in Crown Point can stay connected, even if they don’t have access to the Internet. That way we have a better chance of getting all kinds of different people on the board.

4. Have you seen any changes in the neighbourhood since this work began?

I’ve only lived in the neighbourhood for 2 years, so I’m not the best person to ask. But I think people are getting connected with their neighbours on more levels than before. The neighbourhood has always been fairly connected—you should see it at Halloween! There are hundreds of people out. But now connection is getting to the point where people are willing to take on a bigger project together like lowering speed limits, revitalizing certain streets, improving  parks and so on.

Jane’s Walks are an exciting part of the community. They’re local tours given by residents about the history of the area. So you can get a tour of Gage Park from your city councilor or a tour of your street from a resident who’s been there longer. Jane’s Walks are done all over the world, actually.

5. Is this an idea that could work for other churches?

This is about being an incarnation of the Gospel. Many of us have moved into the Crown Point neighbourhood to do this better. If you don’t live in your church’s neighbourhood, it is still important for your church to have a geographical, positive presence in the neighbourhood. Should your church burn down and no one in your community cares, that’s a problem. The church takes up space in the community, so you’re either an asset to the community or a deficit.

David Derbyshire, a community development worker in Hamilton, says that people who move into the neighbourhood are like pigs, while people who work or worship there are like chickens. Chickens can contribute eggs, and that’s valuable. But pigs give their lives to be ham.

Not saying anything to your neighbourhood is actually saying quite a lot.

6. What is your favourite part of being involved with Crown Point?

I’ve made great friends there. Especially non-Christian friends. They keep me real. It gets me thinking through tough questions like, “Does it matter that I’m a Christian and I’m doing this?” Because they’re not Christians and they’re doing it too. Or, “Whose glory am I doing this for?”

7. What is the relationship between Crown Point and New Hope?

Community agencies and churches can ask to be members of a neighbourhood association. All you really have to do is show up consistently to meetings. New Hope is a member of Crown Point, and many members of the church are also active in the neighbourhood association.

8. What does it take to be a good neighbourhood association?

-Pay attention to the positive, otherwise you can get mired in the negatives.

-Have fun! Definitely have food at meetings.

-Equality and respect are key. Your training doesn’t matter, just your lived experience. No one has the right because they’re an expert to drown out someone else’s voice.

[Image: Flickr user Marchie CTID]


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