It was a crisp morning, one of the first truly fall mornings of 2016. Winter beckoned with a cold finger down my neck. St. Johns High School is a short walk from my house, and within a few minutes I was standing in line waiting for my name tag. It was only a few days ago that had I really clued into The Gathering and what it was.
I felt happy, jubilant to join a group of people that are active in their respective communities. And just inside the door, I found a booth for a web design company that I was able talk to about my ecovillages.ca project. One of my questions they directed to someone else who happened to be standing close by having a conversation. Marty was someone who could advise me on the best financial model for the website.
The importance of community cannot be understated. When I discovered a major gathering of communities that helps others build and support social communities was convening only a few blocks from my home, it felt like it was meant to be. I didn’t have much time. I registered online only two days before the event.
As I stood there talking to him about my project, I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be in that moment. Things were coming together in a way I had never imagined. I found Holly, a friend I was meeting there in the bleachers and we enjoyed the opening blessing from Norman Meade, an Elder in Residence at the University of Manitoba. It has been far too long since I’ve heard deep reverence. Shortly after, our friend Justin showed up and we quietly deliberated the best strategy to take workshops so we could share what we learned afterwards.
There were two keynote speakers, Harsha Walia and Karen Joseph. Hearing Harsha talk about colonialism really brought the topic much closer to home. It’s definitely an important topic that bears conversation, and understanding with where we find ourselves as individuals in our shared historical context. Karen’s keynote was also illuminating about the reconciliation process in Canada.
My first workshop was the Social Enterprise one. With others like Practicing Mindfulness, The Green Workplace, Mentorship Program for Social Enterprise, Building Positive Relationships with the Media and more, it was a difficult choice. I was not let down. When I walked in, I found Marty was one of two people conducting it. Faye, the woman who he shared the presentation with said afterwards she knew me from somewhere but couldn’t place it. The workshop felt like an hour-long synchronicity. It felt like I was meant to be there.
The amount I got out of the workshop was incredible. My point of reference as a community builder tends to come through the ecovillage framework. As an ecovillage advocate, I find that social enterprise has a near perfect fit with ones that have businesses structured in. This workshop was invaluable. There were several case studies, including Innercity Renovation and Sam’s Place. Innercity Renovation was a mind expanding experience on it’s own. The importance of having the right people involved couldn’t have been more underscored. I happen to be an active patron of Sam’s Place, and Alex–the person involved who spoke about it–recognized me.
For lunch, I watched some students from the Children of the Earth High School present how they started a social enterprise within the school. They help other students who create art connect to an audience and sell their compositions. It was a real heartwarming presentation to see the teenagers making their own way.
One of the afternoon afternoon workshops I attended was coordinated by Nigel Mohammed of the Community Financial Center of the Assiniboine Credit Union. Learning how to finance social enterprise was a major connecting element to the first workshop. Again, it nearly blew my mind. And again, I was able to meet people and establish meaningful connections.
It was hard to leave at the end. The vibe at the event was one of the most positive community vibes I’ve felt in a long time, and for the first time, I felt like I was a part of a group working to make things better in our larger, shared community. The coffee, served up by Green Bean was a strong competitor in my mind to the Black Pearl coffee that I am a big fan of. CCEDNet’s The Gathering is an eye-opening discovery with tangible benefits for anyone who dares to brave a new world of interdependence. It felt great to be learning new things in a field that I am interested in. The connections made were indispensable whether I utilize them in an ecovillage framework or not. Later on the weekend, the people I went with enjoyed our own gathering and debriefed, sharing what we learned.