Where do you think Dundas County should be ten years from now in terms of housing, health, food, economic development, transportation, and environment?
This question forms the foundation for the Dundas County Community Forum held on November 18th at the Christian Reformed Church in Williamsburg.
Pauline Pratt, Executive Director for the House of Lazarus said the event “was sponsored by The House of Lazarus and the Townships of North Dundas and South Dundas, in partnership with the Linking Hands Network.”
“This Community Forum was the next step in the House of Lazarus’s Linking Hands in Dundas project. The overall vision of the project is to develop sustainable solutions to the increasing poverty we are experiencing in North and South Dundas, and create communities that are more resilient,” said Pratt.
“We had a wide representation at the Forum that included municipal leaders, business and farming community, social service agencies, churches and concerned residents,” informed Pratt. However, she continued, “several key invited stakeholders were not there.”
Peter Clutterbuck, Community Planning Consultant for the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO), facilitated the full-day event.
According to their mission statement, SPNO “exists to strengthen the capacity of voluntary, community-based social planning organizations to: share knowledge and skills; promote social justice and human rights; provide a common voice to influence policy development and implementation; and, improve quality of life and community well-being.”
In reviewing the day, Pratt said, “we were very pleased with the results of the day. A vision for Dundas 10 years from now was developed in several key areas identified by the participants.” They include economic and entrepreneurial development and training; food security; navigating services; transportation; health; community connectivity; and, housing.
“Each group identified the resources in the community that could contribute to their vision, as well as gaps and barriers, and identified the first steps that could be undertaken in the next couple of years.”
South Dundas Deputy-Mayor Jim Locke, who attended the forum, said, “I attended as a representative of Council to show my support to the organizers and be informed for anything that might come to council as a result of the forum.”
“The day was well organized and was attended by many agencies and there was considerable input from the respective attendees.”
“As with many of these types of forums, there is a long ‘wish’ list. It will depend on who is willing to take up the torch and work towards making those ideas that are doable, happen.”
“I feel, as a member of council, it will be a wait and see position. To be open to presentations by those who take up the torch on matters that are reasonable and financially feasible.”
Fiona Carr, a Family Resource Co-ordinator for the Ontario Early Years program, also attended the event as part of her work: “We wanted to make sure we are doing what we can.”
She continued, “I was really happy with the turnout. I was so happy to see the Mayor. It was so great to see so many people from Morrisburg. We have so many people who care.”
As for looking to the future, Carr said, “if we can get organized, we can do anything.” She referred to the South Dundas Playground in Morrisburg and the amazing turnout of volunteers helping out organizers on the day of the build in September 2011.
Dundas County Food Bank (DCFB) Chair, Brenda Millard was also in attendance. She said, “I attended the Community Forum to represent the DCFB and give input from our perspective and hopefully that of the 340 families we now serve. I was also interested in an update from the Social Audit which took place last year. I understood that a Trillium Grant had been received to implement some of the recommendations from the audit and I suspected that some important issues affecting rural poverty would be discussed.”
“The meeting was worthwhile and meaningful, not only for social interest groups, but for the public of SD&G. Issues for those facing poverty were organized by Peter Clutterbuck and interest groups met separately for discussion. I participated in a group which identified the sustainability and access of nutritious, safe, and sufficient food in rural areas, particularly in the lives of the poor.”
“The Linking Hands Committee, which evolved from the Social Audit has recognized an important need in organizing the forum; they are to be commended for their commitment to resolving issues of rural poverty in Eastern Ontario.”
South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds also attended the event. When asked why he attended, he said, “my plan was to listen to the challenges and see if there were things the Township and Counties were already doing and what we need to get involved in.”
As for how the day went, he said, “it was an interesting day. There were a lot of ideas exchanged especially in the morning when participants were asked to dream of a Dundas County in 10 years. I participated in the economic portion and the number one idea was a trade school to train our youth for the service industry, which makes sense for us. I really did not have any objectives and tried to keep an open mind.”
“One comment that came out loud and clear was that the two councils need to meet more often to discuss the direction for all of Dundas County. We have met once this year and Mayor (Eric) Duncan and I have a good communication line. We will need to look at meeting more often.”
In terms of what should happen next, Byvelds said, “I think the Linking Hands group needs to come up with concrete, doable ideas and present them to Council. This is something the community needs to be involved in.”
“I think the day went well. The biggest challenge will be moving forward with practical ideas.”
In his review of the day’s success, Clutterbuck referred to the group’s diversity: “Getting that mix of people is a real achievement.”
“They worked very effectively the whole day,” he continued. “I was quite impressed with the high quality of thinking.”
In terms of a next step, Clutterbuck said the organizers are working on “producing a consolidated report” and, following that, “should invite people back” to discuss “possible ways toward trying to accomplish these visions.”
The first step is determining what can be done and how to go about it. The real question, he says, is “what do you want to work on first?”
According to Pratt, “participants in the forum signed up for specific working groups that will begin work on the next steps identified by each group. The next meeting of the Linking Hands Network is Monday, November 28, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Riverside Recreation Hall in Riverside Heights.”
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